It’s undeniable that social media has held an increasingly important role in the past two election cycles. But with more than 270 tweeting legislators, and with President Barack Obama alone having almost 6 million followers, is it really considered “new” media anymore?
“I think it’s just an industry standard now; everybody’s on Facebook and Twitter,” said Michael Babyak, press secretary for Rep. Patrick McHenry. “You’re able to put out information multiple times a day, interact with constituents and engage in a two-way conversation. It brings a personal touch that you might not get with just a letter.”
Babyak, a Kernersville, N.C., native, started as press secretary for the North Carolina Republican in early November. He began working for the Congressman as a staff assistant in September 2007. Since then, Babyak has donned myriad hats as legislative correspondent, deputy press secretary and new media director, a role he essentially created for himself.
“Around March last year is when Facebook and Twitter, especially for Congress, was really getting started. At that point, I was like, ‘Hey, we don’t do anything with our page; we don’t even have a Twitter account. Let’s do something about it,’” Babyak said. “So McHenry said, ‘All right great, then let’s do it and run with it.’”
One of the new media initiatives headed by the 26-year-old was a live broadcast of a town hall meeting on Ustream.com. Constituents were not only able to tune in to McHenry’s meeting online, but they also could pose questions using Facebook and Twitter, which were then answered during the broadcast. The practice is now common for Capitol Hill legislators, Babyak said.
Before stepping up to the role of press secretary earlier this month, the staffer spent three weeks campaigning and working with media in Connecticut’s 5th district for Sam Caligiuri. Although the Republican candidate lost to Rep. Christopher Murphy, not all was lost on the campaign trail.
“It gave me a highly new perspective of being on the ground, being in the dogfight and dealing with the press,” Babyak said. “Unfortunately, he lost, but it was a great experience, and made me realize what it really takes to get here.”
Although it was hectic bouncing from McHenry’s office to the campaign trail and back again, switching gears comes easily to Babyak. At Princeton University, he not only earned a bachelor’s degree in politics, but also played on the offensive line for Princeton’s football team.
“It was a defining part of my college experience, and balancing school and sports was, without a doubt, challenging,” he said. “It was an intense environment, and I think the experience taught me to stay pretty even-keeled, something that is definitely beneficial in this job.”
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