Candidates Try Web Video, And the Reviews Are Mixed

From his dorm room at Georgetown, 21-year-old James Kotecki critiques the candidates' online videos, sometimes using
From his dorm room at Georgetown, 21-year-old James Kotecki critiques the candidates' online videos, sometimes using "pencil puppets" as visual aids. His postings on YouTube have been viewed more than 71,000 times. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) posts regular "HillCasts" to talk about her positions on equal pay, health care and Iraq. Rudolph W. Giuliani treats YouTube as if it were C-SPAN -- a place for his 58-minute speech to the Churchill Club. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) put up a casual backstage interview before his appearance on "The Daily Show." And though Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was the last of the presidential front-runners to jump on the online video bandwagon, he now has more than 25 videos circulating on the Web.

One after another, presidential campaigns are adding videos to their Web sites as well as to video-sharing sites such as YouTube, MySpace and Veoh. The reviews, however, are mixed. Production values are uneven -- a few videos look grainy; many are professionally produced; most seem downright misplaced. And so far, judging by the number of views on YouTube -- and the overall buzz on the blogosphere -- it's the candidate videos that the campaigns didn't make that get attention.

Not one of the videos made by John Edwards's campaign, for example, matches the popularity of the one showing the former senator combing his hair before an interview to the tune of "I Feel Pretty." That video has been viewed more than 135,000 times since it was posted on YouTube in November. Edwards's most popular official video, of his announcement in December that he's running for president, has been viewed about 116,000 times.

Similarly, Clinton's most watched HillCast, titled " Roadmap Out of Iraq," comes nowhere close in popularity to the video showing her singing " The Star-Spangled Banner" off-key at a rally in Iowa. The HillCast has been viewed more than 15,000 times since it was posted on Feb. 17, the out-of-tune moment nearly 1.1 million times since its posting on Jan. 27.

As fans of Web video know, YouTube is a place of irreverence, spontaneity, humor. And for the most part, candidates are giving their online audience the opposite of what it wants. Just ask James Kotecki.

Several times a week, Kotecki, a self-described "political geek" turned YouTube celebrity, advises presidential candidates on their campaign videos -- from his dorm room at Georgetown University. Equipped with a three-year-old laptop, a $60 Web camera and a $30 microphone -- and a small, dusty desk lamp as a light source -- the 21-year-old dishes out free, unsolicited suggestions (and the occasional compliment) to the candidates.

For Giuliani: "All of your videos so far are just recordings of your speeches. And two of them are marathons, clocking in at 45 minutes and 58 minutes."

For Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio): "The ivy background, I'm-outside-but-I'm-really-inside thing, doesn't strike me as overly presidential. I'd also encourage you to make your videos a bit more intimate by bringing the camera closer in to you."

For McCain: "Maybe it's time to post a funny video."

Kotecki has one recurring message to the candidates and their expensive media advisers: "The Web isn't TV." As in, Web viewers don't expect to be spoken to, they expect to be spoken with. It's a passive experience vs. an interactive one.

Other students of the genre have similar advice.

"Look at how the candidates are talking in their videos. With a few exceptions, they're mostly looking sideways, not talking directly to the camera," said Jeff Jarvis, who heads the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism and started, a blog dedicated to watching the campaign through YouTube. "The important thing about this medium is it's very human and intimate. A voter comes across and clicks on you. You should talk to that voter and look at him in the eye."

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