About the Author: Sean McCormack serves as the Department Spokesman and Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.
Here is the first "Briefing 2.0" on "statevideo," the U.S. Department of State YouTube channel. I answered ten full questions submitted via YouTube (there was one partially recorded question) and two written questions submitted via the U.S. Department of State blog, DipNote. We plan to hold the next briefing on November 13. I've been asked how frequently we plan to have 2.0 briefings, and the answer to the question really depends on the reaction from people in the DipNote, Facebook, YouTube and other networks with whom we are building relationships. At the moment, I expect to do 2.0 briefings once per week. If you tell me more or fewer briefings are needed, however, I'll adjust accordingly. In the meantime I also want to start a discussion about the Briefing 2.0 -- why we're doing it, what we're doing, and how we are doing it.
I planned to write this DipNote entry even before today's piece in the Washington Post; so much of what you'll read was already planned. The Post piece raised indirectly the question of why we started the Briefing 2.0 effort. I've had a running discussion over the past few years with journalists about the changing information and media landscape and in those conversations we've expressed our various mutual frustrations about daily matters, about fundamental issues concerning the relationship between journalists and public officials, as well about our distinct yet linked roles. These are important issues in a democracy, but one person or group won't answer them. Instead, like many other changes in our society, some equilibrium will be established only to be questioned by one side or another. All that aside, I wanted to say a couple of things about the journalists with whom I work on a daily basis. First, most -- if not all -- of them work hard to get the story right. They are professionals who care about their work. That is not to say we agree always on what they produce. We don't, but agreement is not the standard, which brings me to a second point. I've said it in public, but it bears repeating here: an independent media is essential to the health of any democracy. My time at the podium has only served to reinforce that view.
So given all those positive sentiments, you might ask, why start something like Briefing 2.0? Well, most fundamentally, starting this effort had nothing to do with the mainstream media. It was not conceived or executed as a way to bypass the "filter" of the media. In fact, I believe that if you perceived those were my motivations, nobody would be reading this post and we would not have received any video questions. Instead, I started the briefing as part of an ongoing effort to help the State Department communicate with individuals and publics worldwide using the technology and applications available. As I've told my staff, insisting on a 20th century world behind the walls of the State Department while the watching a 21st century world develop outside the walls is not a sustainable posture for any large organization, never mind an institution like the State Department in the business of communication. DipNote readers know as well as anybody the technology and applications available now both to collect, sort, consume, and share information and to generate original content. As a consequence, individuals can now build powerful networks independent of resources devoted by older institutions like the government or media businesses. DipNote and Briefing 2.0 are two manifestations our effort to participate in the new world you are creating. None of our efforts diminish energy devoted to dealing with professional journalists. I still do a daily briefing with the media, Secretary Rice still does press availabilities and interviews, and professional journalists still access public officials in ways not available to every citizen. Instead, we are asking for you to let us into your community and, in turn, we do our best to let you into ours. If we don't live up to your expectations, we lose out.
Projecting forward, I suspect future administrations will build on our efforts. Of course, it will be up to them whether to eliminate, modify, or leave the same what we are doing. You will also have a say as to how the relationship develops. But I further suspect that the changes we have set in motion, which are as much about what you see as they are about changes in State Department processes, will only accelerate in the years ahead. Policymakers will need to grapple in the years ahead with how social networks, individuals, and other groups interact with and participate in the policymaking process. As technologies and applications evolve, and as they influence how we relate to and perceive one another, the relationship between professionals working in institutions like the State Department and those outside the ever more permeable "walls" of those institutions will evolve.