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Obama's Wide Web
'Not Just About Obama'
Forget CNN, Fox News, NBC et al. Obama stars on his own channel, and it's headed by Kate Albright-Hanna, a self-described YouTube addict who runs Obama's video team.
So far, Albright-Hanna's group has shot more than 2,000 hours' worth of footage and uploaded about 1,110 videos on Obama's YouTube channel-- more than four times what's available on Sen. John McCain's channel. For months, Obama's 37-minute race speech following the furor over the remarks of his former pastor has remained the channel's most watched video, seen more than 4.7 million times. But what's striking about Obama's channel is the breadth of its content. Though most of the videos are centered on the candidate -- his speeches and rallies, his TV and online ads, his TV appearances -- many others feature his supporters.
"Early on, we wanted to capture the sense that this campaign is not just about Obama," says Albright-Hanna, 32.
An Emmy winner, she joined CNN's political unit in 1999 and met Rospars while filming a documentary on Dean. When she heard that Rospars was working for Obama, Albright-Hanna called and said she wanted to produce a doc on Obama. The campaign planned to develop its own video content, Rospars said. Intrigued, Albright-Hanna sent him a proposal on video strategy. Weeks later, she left CNN and moved with her husband and 3-year-old son to Chicago.
At least nine staffers have contributed to the video team -- an astounding figure compared with many mainstream news organizations and past campaigns. (McCain's aides declined to say how many videographers the campaign has. It has four staffers devoted to Internet activities, and has also hired an outside vendor.) Some travel with Obama and his press pack. Others work in the field. Some of the videos last less than five minutes; others go on for as long as 25. They're posted on BarackTV, the video portal on BarackObama.com, and on YouTube.
A 13-minute video featuring students at the Bronx High School for Performance and Stagecraft, for example, shows black and Hispanic teenagers talking about their school's racial atmosphere and their reaction to Obama's race speech in Philadelphia. "I like . . . how [Obama] always says blacks, whites, Spanish, Asian," Ryston Buchanan, a junior, says in the video. "He says all the races, so you can see that he's not focused on one group of people." Albright-Hanna shot that video herself, and it's been viewed more than 400,000 times.
"I guess I've kind of been rebelling from my CNN days, where video had to be a certain length, a certain format with a certain sensibility. Where I came from, there's a lot of concern about ratings and about what they think people, everyday people, are interested in watching," Albright-Hanna says. "Here, we don't worry about how many views our videos get. That's not the priority. One of our goals is to get people talking about what's going on in their lives and why they're supporting Barack -- and hopefully not only will they watch the videos but also comment on them and forward them to relatives and friends and co-workers."
Last year, when reporters and pundits saw Clinton as the front-runner for the nomination, Albright-Hanna's team tried to capture how Obama's excited supporters were organizing. In December, weeks before the Iowa caucuses, a two-minute video was posted telling the story of Helen Kwan, an Obama precinct captain in Bettendorf, and Lilah Bell, a 99-year-old Obama volunteer who planned to caucus for the first time. "This is primarily Republican," says Kwan, a 46-year-old mother of five. "But I have about eight strong volunteers, probably closer to 10 strong volunteers." Obama never appears in the video, which has been viewed more than 11,000 times -- just his campaign logo.
The pattern has continued during the general election campaign, when most news reports zero in on the day's tit-for-tat. Never mind the polls, these videos seem to say, this is what's happening in various homes and communities.
The videos are also used to bypass the news media. In June, Obama announced his decision to opt out of public financing in an almost three-minute video that's been viewed more than 345,000 times. Recently, a policy adviser in the campaign was featured in a three-minute "fact checking" video-- now viewed about 117,000 times -- rebutting McCain's attacks on Obama.
Together, the videos on Obama's YouTube channel have been viewed nearly 52 million times, according to TubeMogul.com, which tracks online videos. A viewer watching a video on the channel has an option to click on a "Contribute" button and, using a credit card, donate an amount from $15 to $1,000 using Google Checkout. McCain's channel, whose videos have been viewed 9.5 million times, doesn't offer this option.
Some bloggers say these videos are self-serving, propagandist, almost cultlike. Others, however, say the videos give supporters a chance to see themselves as part of the campaign. Whatever the judgment, Albright-Hanna says, "we don't have control over what people think of the videos -- we just put them out there."