Monday, June 18, 2007

delicious things politicians read

In my recent May, 28, 2007 post on "MySpace Impact" I described the production quality of Democratic Candidate Chris Dodd's video message. "While I think he has an admirable message in his video, on the one hand, it's poorly produced with bad lighting and sound. His video is very jarring when contrasted to the fancy, fast-paced media of music videos or even Richardson's video. On the other hand, the poor quality of the video and the self-consciousness of his addressing the camera shares a lot of common ground with the quick-and-dirty work of casual video-bloggers on YouTube."

In response, Tim of the Chris Dodd campaign commented:

"That was the point when we created Dodd's video ... especially since we asked people to respond with their own. How many youtube users creating original content do twenty-seven takes and use Final Cut Pro and all kinds of special effects with $3,000 worth of lighting?

Chris Dodd for President"

My response to Tim:

Hi Tim,

Thanks for the comment! Excellent point. I did a quick search on YouTube and wasn't successful in finding responses. Although I did browse Dodd's MySpace blog posts and noticed a few videos posted, some seemingly authored by Dodd's staff and some authored by Dodd supporters. The most common theme I observed is a review of Dodd's stance on issues and a promotion and celebration of campaign fervor.

The Sunday, June 3, 2007 MySpace blog post features a YouTube video with Dodd responding to questions from various undisclosed websites. This is probably a great example of the YouTube-like, low-production quality video you're describing.

About two-thirds into the video, Dodd commented on the difficulty to answer complex questions in under one minute in Presidential debates. The question was: "What kind of practice do you do for the debate? Do you do any drills of any kind?" Dodd responded by saying that, with the help of his staff, he's working to "get tighter on these answers" but that it is nonetheless a major challenge to condense complexity because of time requirements for (presumably) televised debate.

I'm straying from the topic of production quality, but I think here the question of content quality arises. And while the video gives a bit more expanded answers, it only goes so deep in giving us a picture of Dodd.

The challenge of conveying complexity when confronted with time limits is an important skill and a challenge, and I totally understand what he's saying.

Last week I was brought onto KZSC, my alma mater UC Santa Cruz's radio station, to be interviewed by journalist Bruce Bratton on his show "University Grapevine" about long-range campus planning, university growth and student housing issues. We had a great live conversation over the course of a half hour. I think both Bruce and I came away feeling we could go deeper and that we only began to scratch the surface of these issues. Having done interviews and lectures on the same subjects before, I've found it to be both problematic and important to pack an overview or analysis of a very complex issue into a brief span of time. You want to give it clear and concisely but you also don't want to lose the meat. I found myself commenting near the end of the interview about the subject's complexity and remarking that noting its complexity is not to gloss over things but instead an invitation for listeners to get out there, do research, and learn more.

Reviewing Dodd's website may have keyed me into a partial answer to this challenge of packing big information into little packages, and the sociable web is part of the answer...

Dodd's MySpace blog posts are titled as "blog round-ups." At first I thought these posts were a round-up of blog posts Dodd read from around the blogosphere. Then I realized the round-up was of blog posts from the main Dodd website. It's great to follow the campaign trail and see reviews of Dodd's political stance, but I was actually hoping to have a peek into Dodd's favorite blog posts or news articles he reads!

What if this was the case? What if Dodd actually had a blog round-up of news stories and articles, websites and information? I really like this concept and think it could be pretty influential. It'd make a great complement to the video messages.

One of my favorite blogs, Ethan Zuckerman's "I left my heart in Accra", which has a heavy theme of Africa and social-tech activism, runs a regular links round-up with commentary. Akin to the lists found on websites around the net (see mine to the right), what's great about Ethan's links and commentary is that they give us a view into what Ethan's reading and allows his internet research and inquiry to reach us easily.

Reading Ethan's links (or mine) also gives the reader an unusual backdoor to ongoing thought processes. The reader can peer into the internet-connected-mind's non-linear gathering of information, web surfing, blog browsing, life and world puzzle jumbling and reorganizing, and appreciation of knowledge, research and thoughts of others.

A challenge for politicians is connecting with constituents on a meaningful level. Sometimes the politician-constituent connection happens on an aesthetic branding-like level dependent on heavy framing (think GW Bush) and sometimes it happens because of heart-felt messages and well-crafted, honest communication work (think Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth). Getting a politician's character across is key, but I'll add to this that helping constituents gain a sense of transparency when it comes to the politicians own accumulation of knowledge is also important -- here those links come into play.

When the reader gains a perspective onto the mind of the politician (or, frankly, whomever is collecting the links), the reader feels more comfortable with that individual. And even if one disagrees with a politician's party or political standpoint, the ability to see what a politician is reading enables both the politician and the reader-constituent to see the influencing information, the factual or opinion-based content, directly and make their own decision based on the same sources of information instead of a diluted filter such as a television ad, brief interview, or debate dominated by buzzwords and rhetoric.

Where does the politician get his or her information? With what frequency does the politician read information and from what sources? What are they reading, what fascinates them, and what publications, authors and subjects do they like to check out? Might the politician care to influence me with their recommendations of great articles, books, websites, or even, say organizations, businesses, and places to see and visit? Can the Presidential candidates compete to influence me, to compete to share with me their thoughts? Can they work hard to not only influence me by TV ads, but also do so by sharing with me their influences and inspiration? I want in on their own, personal research process inquiring about the world!

Reading a politician's links list would help answer these questions. (I'd also like for honest authenticity to be established, and a way for me to know if the list is actually coming from the politicians.)

Candidate Chris Dodd's prompt for v-bloggers to post responses does somewhat move in this direction by establishing an added communication link. Dodd's website even advertises that a "DTV" is in the works (I imagine it will have even more frequent video messages from the man himself?).

Dodd should keep up his plan to video-blog -- they are great practice for live debate and give us a virtual in-the-flesh experience -- but they should be complemented by a links blog round-up.

Now Dodd needs to make his blog news expand beyond the campaign website and show us what he's been reading.

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