Obama Inauguration: Be There Without Being There

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Barack Obama
The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States is arguably one of the biggest--and certainly most-anticipated--events in the country's history. It's also one that very few people will be able to attend in person. For those who get to be there, Washington, D.C., will be a madhouse, and the experience will be fraught with hassles (like finding a restroom). Fortunately, the media coverage will be massive and multifaceted, so experiencing the event from afar may not be so bad. I'll suggest some media resources new and old to give you a taste of what it's like to be there.

You still can't beat good old TV for pure visual quality. While many of my suggestions below involve a computer and the Internet, it's a good idea to have a TV on in the background if you can. Turn the sound off, and keep the remote handy. (I'll say a little more about the TV coverage below.)

For reference, take a look at the entire Inauguration Program, including Tuesday's schedule of events.

CNN and Facebook Partnership

Some of the best tools I've found for following political events are the ones that mix video and social networking features.

The one that I'll start with on inauguration day is a Web 2.0 service created by CNN and Facebook. At the site, you can watch the CNN video feeds and use Facebook to comment on the goings-on and comment on your friends' comments. You can also link to various sources of media coverage, or post images. All of this will happen at CNN.com Live. The CNN/Facebook coverage begins at 8 a.m. EST, with the swearing-in ceremony at 12 p.m. EST, followed immediately by Obama's inauguration speech.

Though broadcasters can air only one video feed at a time on a single TV channel, they will likely have four or five separate crews on the ground in D.C. creating multiple other feeds. Often at sites such as CNN's, you can choose which feed you want to watch at a given time, and switch around. Advantage: Web video.

NBC (through MSNBC), CBS, Fox, and the New York Times also will be providing live video streaming of the inauguration.

Watch It on the Big Screen

MSNBC and a chain of movie theaters (Screenvision) have arranged for MSNBC's live coverage of the event to be shown on the big screen in select major cities (27 of them in 21 major markets). To find out if your city is among the group, visit MSNBC Events. If you plan on attending, you will need to RSVP at the site. The show will run from 11:30 a.m. EST to 3:30 p.m. EST.

The Most 'Accessible' Inauguration Ever

U.S. Capitol 1913
The U.S. Capitol in preparation for the Inaugural Ceremonies for Woodrow Wilson.
Obama's inaugural committee has pledged to make his January 20 inauguration the most "accessible" in U.S. history, but does that apply to those folks who can't (or choose not to) be there, too?

Actually, yes. The Obama organization has become a media machine in its own right, and that machine will fire up once again for inauguration day. Here are some of the media types it'll be using.

The official Inaugural YouTube group already has numerous videos posted in advance of the event, but the real reason for tuning in there is the possibility of seeing some behind-the-scenes footage shot and uploaded by members of Obama's staff. We saw some interesting footage that was shot just before Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last summer.

Of course, the setup also has a social element. If you are a YouTube member, you can log in and join the Presidential Inaugural Committee group; afterward, if you wish, you can post your own videos or comment on the ones that are up.

The Obama team has a fetish for text messaging, as everyone saw throughout the campaign, and the organization is at it again with the inauguration. The Obama people will be sending out text messages (and e-mail) to people attending the inauguration, starting before the weekend and continuing through Tuesday. These messages, the Obama people say, will be updates on events happening throughout the capital. It might be fun to sign up for the updates and pretend you're there.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee will also be updating a Flickr photo stream throughout the day.

Twittering the Inauguration

The Obama team hasn't forgotten its Twitter-using friends, either. The "Official Presidential Inaugural Committee" Twitter group gives you a way to do your own play-by-play of the event, and to mix it up with other Twitterers. The group has about 3000 "followers" at the time of this writing, and it will probably grow over the weekend.

If you're sitting at your desk at work, remember that Twitter can be a significant time-sink. On the plus side, using Twitter is a great way to read about the inauguration-day experiences of nonmedia types.

NPR and Citizen Journalism

Speaking of citizen journalism, NPR and Current.tv have established a couple of tags for people to use while microblogging before and during the inauguration. Thousands of people on their way to D.C. are already tweeting and labeling their tweets with the "#dctrip09" tag. Another tag, "#inaug09", is for microblogger use during the inaugural ceremonies. By searching for these tags on Twitter, you can follow the all the microblogs. The tags can be used on other sites, like Flickr and YouTube, too, so you can follow the photo and video submissions of the inauguration over there, as well.

For more inauguration-watching advice, see the next page.

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