Will Obama's White House Be Open To The Media?

President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to take office talking as though he'll throw the White House doors open and let the sunshine in. But some reporters who have been covering the Obama campaign are a little doubtful of what that means for journalists.

Jennifer Psaki, a spokeswoman for the Obama transition team, says she feels the campaign made the senator "very accessible to the media." The trend, she says, will continue in an Obama White House.

"We're really looking forward to maintaining a level of openness and transparency that we really had throughout the campaign," Psaki said.

But her idea of openness and transparency differs dramatically from that of some reporters who covered the campaign — such as Christi Parsons of Obama's hometown Chicago Tribune.

"It was almost a Rose Garden strategy," Parsons says, "granting interviews to journalists selectively, people with expertise in a particular area — or just say, more friendly venues, where the topic will be lighter, easier."

Parsons says Obama made a decision to "pick the right moments and speak to them, and not litter it up with a lot of other talk."

But it was not always this way. Parsons and other reporters who have covered Obama since his days in the Illinois state Senate say he used to seek out reporters eagerly. One of them was Jeff Zeleny, then of the Tribune, now of The New York Times.

"He was a one-man show," Zeleny says. "He was his own press secretary, his own communications director and his own political strategist."

Democrats were in the minority, and while state Sen. Obama wasn't written about a lot, he was quoted about substantive issues such as the justice system. But Parsons says he didn't leak like other lawmakers in Springfield, Ill.

"It took awhile for it to dawn on everyone: He wasn't playing to win in the state Legislature; he was thinking about something else," she says.

In 2004, Obama won a U.S. Senate seat through his appeal to voters in electrifying speeches — and through the self-destruction of his opponents. Zeleny says Obama remained expansive with reporters in Washington — particularly during the short shuttle rides between the Capitol building and his office building.

"He has the mind-set and the ego and the wherewithal that if he can explain something, if he gets your ear, he can sell you on it — and he seemed to enjoy doing so," Zeleny says.

Candidate Obama, however, was cut off from a lot of the give-and-take with reporters, because he was given Secret Service protection unusually early. He also became disciplined about his message.

After incendiary remarks about race by his former pastor, Obama took time responding. He finally gave a highly regarded televised speech invoking the nation's struggle with its racial past.

"Part of the power of it, I think, was that he hadn't spoken to that issue over and over again, every time a reporter showed up with a microphone," says Parsons. "He saved it for a moment where he could craft it and tell it in his way, without being interrupted or filtered."

And Obama's campaign found innovative ways to go around that filter, including regular Web video updates from David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager. Millions of people signed up for the updates.

Zeleny says the campaign was brilliant in sharing information through online social networks, YouTube and other viral outlets.

"I think in this White House, you may once again have more information about the president and the administration than ever before," Zeleny says. "But I still think there will be fewer opportunities for questions and direct interaction with reporters and the president."

The Obama White House is expected to hold more press conferences than did the Bush White House. Transition team spokeswoman Psaki says the old-fashioned media outlets still matter, because so many Americans still get their news from them.

But, she says, "We have certainly tapped into a willingness and a desire by the American people to receive constant news updates and the news in its raw form — you know, the original speech, the video of the event."

So the White House press corps may end up competing with newsmakers and sources who increasingly want to deliver the news themselves.

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