Will Obama's White House Be Open To The Media? President-elect Barack Obama talks as though he'll throw the White House doors open and let in the sunshine. But some reporters who have been covering the Obama campaign are a little doubtful about what that means for journalists.
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Will Obama's White House Be Open To The Media?

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

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

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There's another change President-elect Barack Obama seems to be preparing for. It has to do with access to the press. The president-elect talks as though he will throw the White House doors open and let the sunshine in. Some reporters who've been covering the Obama campaign are a little doubtful of what that will actually mean for journalists. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The first thing we'll do is go right to the source.

JENNIFER PSAKI: We felt we made not only the senator at the time very accessible to the media, but we also made campaign staffers and policy advisers really available because we wanted to be as helpful as we could be.

FOLKENFLIK: Jennifer Psaki is a spokeswoman for the Obama transition team.

PSAKI: We're really looking forward to maintaining a level of openness and transparency that we really had throughout the campaign.

FOLKENFLIK: But her idea of openness and transparency differs dramatically from that of some reporters who covered this campaign, reporters like Christi Parsons of Senator Obama's hometown Chicago Tribune.

CHRISTI PARSONS: It was almost a Rose Garden strategy, granting interviews to journalists selectively, to people with great expertise in a particular area, or just, say, you know, more friendly venues where the topics are probably going to be lighter and easier.

FOLKENFLIK: Parsons says Senator Obama made a decision to...

PARSONS: Pick the right moments and speak to them, and then not litter it up with a lot of other talk.

FOLKENFLIK: But it was not ever thus. Parsons and other reporters who have covered Senator Obama since his days in the state Senate said he used to seek out reporters eagerly. One of them was Jeff Zeleny, then of The Tribune, now of The New York Times.

JEFF ZELENY: He was a one-man show. He was his own press secretary, he was his own communications director, and his own political strategist.

FOLKENFLIK: Democrats were in the minority. And while state Senator Obama wasn't written about a lot, he was quoted about substantive issues such as the justice system. But Christi Parsons says he didn't leak like everyone else in Springfield.

PARSONS: It took a while for it to dawn on everyone, he wasn't playing to win in the state Legislature. He was thinking about something else.

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

ZELENY: I think he, sort of, has the mindset and the ego and the wherewithal that if he can explain something, if he gets to your ear, he can sell you on it. And he seemed to enjoy doing so.

FOLKENFLIK: 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, Senator Obama took time responding, but finally gave a highly regarded televised speech invoking the nation's struggle with its racial past. Christi Parsons.

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

FOLKENFLIK: And his campaign found innovative ways to go around that filter.

DAVID PLOUFFE: Hey, everyone, this is David Plouffe, Barack Obama's campaign manager.

FOLKENFLIK: Millions of people signed up to get regular video updates from Plouffe.

PLOUFFE: The magic number for all of you who are out there working so hard, continuing to contribute money, knocking on doors for us, is 270.

FOLKENFLIK: I've got to be honest. I had no idea what this guy looked like before seeing these rather spartan videos. Times reporter Jeff Zeleny says the campaign was brilliant in sharing information through online social networks, YouTube, and other viral outlets.

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

FOLKENFLIK: The Obama White House is expected to hold more press conferences than President George W. Bush has. Transition team spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki says the old-fashioned media outlets still matter because so many Americans still get their news from them. But she says...

PSAKI: 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 - the original speech, the video of the event.

FOLKENFLIK: So the White House press corps may end up competing with newsmakers and sources who increasingly want to deliver the news themselves. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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