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YouTube Campaign Videos Get a Critique

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YouTube Campaign Videos Get a Critique

Digital Life

YouTube Campaign Videos Get a Critique

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

YouTube was the site of a political battle this week. An ad war erupted between supporters of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The first shot was fired when a rogue Obama supporter posted a takeoff on the legendary "1984" Apple Computer ad featuring the metallic voice of Big Brother. Here, the voice you hear is Hillary Clinton's.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I hope you've learned a little bit more about what I'm believing and trying to do, and really help this conversation about our country (unintelligible) November 2008.

(Soundbite of explosion)

MONTAGNE: Whoa. Clinton supporters responded, making Obama's voice the Orwellian one. Now the videos have been viewed more than a million times. One person looking at those videos this week was James Kotecki. He's a self-described YouTube addict and a senior at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. James Kotecki tracks many of the political ads on YouTube, and he posts his critiques on the Web site. Good morning.

Mr. JAMES KOTECKI (Senior, Georgetown University): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: These ads were not produced by either campaign. So what do you think that means for politics in the sense that, are candidates losing control of their own messages?

Mr. KOTECKI: It is true that in the age of user-generated content candidates are going to have a lot less control over what goes up. And I think that's worse for candidates who fear loss of control and aren't good at projecting kind of nonchalant, off-the-cuff versions of themself and really require a very controlled image to be effective. And if you look at what Barack Obama, for example, has on YouTube. He has his Monday night football clip where he made a joking reference to supporting the Bears, you know, instead of announcing for president.

MONTAGNE: We have that video here so we can take a listen to a bit of it, at least, how about the end of it.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): I'd like to announce to my hometown of Chicago and all of America that I am ready for the Bears to go all the way, baby. Dah-dad-dah-dum.

Mr. KOTECKI: In this case, it actually works pretty well as a video on YouTube as well because it was short and it was funny, and people would want to forward that video around. The most interesting and I think the most effective use of a site like YouTube is to treat it not just as a one-way medium for broadcasting a message, but to actually treat it as a two-way conversation where you can respond to people that are making videos that address you and they can then respond back to you, and you can have this kind of almost one-on-one dialogue but in a public forum.

And so far the only candidate to use YouTube for that has been Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and he happened to do it as a video response to one of my videos that I made about him.

MONTAGNE: We have that video, and let's hear what Congressman Dennis Kucinich said to you.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Representative DENNIS KUCINICH (Democrat, Ohio): Hi, James. It's about midnight and I'm still at work. I just want to let you know how much I appreciate hearing from you. I think you had some good suggestions and we're already taking it into account with these close ups. I want to make sure that I communicate with you about my campaign.

MONTAGNE: Now that's a sort of video that might end up getting spun around a bit. Why did you tell him he needed a closer shot?

Mr. KOTECKI: The reason I suggested that he do that is because if you appear like you are just a guy, you know, in your living room making a video blog as a candidate, that can actually work very effectively. You don't have to have very high production quality. So I suggested that if he did a little bit of a closer shot, he'd look more like the rest of the people on YouTube that he was trying to reach.

MONTAGNE: Can, though, a candidate be hurt if that candidate doesn't, to some extent, control what's put out there?

Mr. KOTECKI: It's true that the "1984" video could have hurt Barack Obama's campaign to some extent, but I think you're going to basically just see more and more of this content that's being created. And in fact it's also the ultimate control in some sense, because you have your own channel that anybody can view and watch, and you can basically say whatever you want to respond to whatever attacks you get and pursue it that way.

MONTAGNE: Is YouTube, then, now the place where you'd say younger generation, you're 21, you're in that generation, is it going to attract politics?

Mr. KOTECKI: I hope that the success of YouTube will translate into people getting more interested in the political videos that are up there on YouTube. A lot of people on my generation, I think, are very turned off by glossy campaign ads, soundbites on television news shows, and politicians basically acting like politicians, not like real human beings, and it doesn't really - seems like there's a very big disconnect there. And what YouTube potentially can do is bridge that gap.

MONTAGNE: Okay, but here's the possible catch. In the end, if this is the way for younger people to track politics, think this will get people to vote?

Mr. KOTECKI: I don't know if it's going to get people to vote or not, and it's really an open question as to whether any of this YouTube stuff, as much as I love it and as much as I hope that it does change politics, it's still an open question as to whether or not you can actually translate this into votes.

MONTAGNE: Well, thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. KOTECKI: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: James Kotecki is a senior at Georgetown University in Washington. And if you want to see what all the fuss is about, you can find links to online campaign videos and James Kotecki's reviews at our Web site npr.org.

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