Online Politics: Web teams

I’m at the Online Politics confab in D.C. The first panel was about software and services and campaigns. Not my shtick. Now there’s a panel about building a web team with Joe Trippi, Jerome Armstrong of MyDD, Patrick Ruffini (now with Giuliani), Chuck DeFeo of Townhall.com, and Chuck Todd as moderator. Much talk about the YouTube campaign. Sporadic liveblogging:

Ruffini says that the ’08 campaign is making big progress in “leading with the web” with announcements — that is, all their YouTube videos. He suggests making big events offline big events online. Todd says he’s impressed with Mitt TV and asks DeFeo to critique it. DeFeo says that what the Romney campaign is doing with online video is very smart. He recalls the macaca moment and the dead-in-the-water Allen campaign. When Macaca happened, he asks rhetorically, “What should they have done? They should have flooded the zone.” That is, when people came in and searched “macaca,” they should have found a lot of videos from the campaign. “Instead, they left the platform open for that macaca moment.” In contrast, the Romney campaign responded to a critical video with video of its own.

Trippi, asked what he thinks of Hillcasts and such, recalls doing Dean TV 24/7. “The significant difference is the authenticity of what we put up vs. what they’re doing now… My big complaint with Mitt TV, Hillscasts, etc, is that it’s scripted.” He recalls a moment in Iowa — a story I’ve heard before — when a student told Dean that he was skipping a final to see the candidate but the candidate switched to dad mode and insisted that the kid go take his test. It made great and authentic video, Trippi says, and he marks it as a significant moment in the campaign online.

Would you videotape every moment? “Absolutely,” says Tripp. He mentions the cost of travel but he wants two kids with cams following the candidate. Ruffini says recording everything is “a smart idea and it’s a way of innoculating against” the gaffe.

Trippi: “Every one of these candidates is going to get caught in a macaca moment.” They’re going to walk into a fundraiser thinking it’s off-the-record and say something. Todd remembers Bill Clinton saying that he made a mistake raising taxes so much and that these days, could end up on YouTube (though he then speculates that that might have raised Clinton’s approval rating by 20 points).

Armstrong said he had someone following Warner all the time. The candidates need to get over an awkwardness that comes with this. “They think when the camera goes on, they’re live to 300,000 to a million people. They’re not used to having the conversation one on one.” He says it is also demanding of resources: a shooter, an editor, a communications person to approve what goes up. DeFeo reminds him that Mac editing is damned cheap and anyone can do it. (See, again, the David Cameron operation in London with two people.)

Trippi says all the video that that came in went up automatically unless someone was running naked across the screen or there was hate speech. They didn’t put the usual filters across it.

Armstrong says all this will eventually make the candidates better.

DeFeo says that there have been video trackers around campaigns for 20 years but they never saw that tape; it ended up on the cutting-room floor outside a focus-group room. “With YouTube you have a giant focus group and you can just put it up.” And see what sticks. Ruffini says the old days of campaigns were about controlling message. Now it’s about putting it out there and, again, seeing what sticks.

Todd says, by way of example, that the owner of the Washington Redskins has hired its own journalists. “In the sports world, this has become a very accepted thing.” He asks how close we are to campaigns to hiring their own journalists on staff — not press staff but journalists. Trippi says he knows of one campaign that’s about to do that, hiring a journalist to disseminate their story. So it’s not a press release. It goes up on GoogleNews or on YouTube as a video news story. Todd says he knows of another that plans to do that. Campaigns, he said, are starting to see that they don’t mean mainstream media as much as MSM needs them.

Armstrong points to the video announcements online, “very controlled, very scripted, without a reporter in the room.” It’s a way around MSM.

Todd asks: “Bloggers, hire them or co-opt them?” Of course, he raises the story of the Edwards’ campaign’s controversial bloggers. Ruffini says that campaign blogging is different from “regular political blogging.” He says you can’t necessarily transfer the success of blogging to campaign blogging. He says the technology world has evolved into a better model — e.g., Scoble when he was in Microsoft with is own blog and voice but still part of the company and transparent about their biases. He says that if you take a successful blogger and put them on a campaign web site, “you’re going to lose some element of credibility…. Where does the campaign stop and the blogger begin?”

Armstrong — who has been in both positions — says it’s a fluid situation and he has changed his position. He says it is difficult to go from the blogosphere to a campaign. He mostly hires bloggers “who have no history.” He says a blogger with history can’t adapt that voice to a campaign. He says that Trippi hired that way: Zephyr Teachout was not a blogger; they hired Jerome not to blog. Trippi argues that, like campaign workers, bloggers for candidates can switch candidates and thus stands on issues. “There has to be some give there at some point.” That has been my argument about the fading lines in this world: Your audience (public, community…) has to know where you’re coming from: Are you a journalist, an advocate for a candidate, an advocate for an issue; what’s your priority? Tripp agrees that really established bloggers won’t work in campaigns.

Todd says that the Democratic web and blog strategy is ahead; DeFeo disagrees with that perception and says the conservative web is made up of more individuals while the liberal web is built up around larger, “top-down” sites like Kos and Talking Points Memo. Armstrong disagrees in turn and says there is much action on the left locally. DeFeo disagrees in turn and points to Town Hall’s local blogs. Catfight. Catfight.

Trippi says that in the last election, the Democratic campaigns had different needs than the Republicans. Start with money. He says we’ll see “a big maturing thing happening this cycle.” He says that if Hillary gave a good speech, “the Daily Kos is just not a good place to go say that, it’s not comfortable.” So, he argues, that the people who like Hillary will create their own Kos. “I think you’ll see a broadening of the progressive side with more blogs.” (See my column about the political nature of the internet and the ability for people of similar views to find each other and coalesce.) Todd equates Rush and Kos as spokesman for their ends, driving message.

There’s talk about mobile and games and other new stuff. One panelist says there’s a cost-benefit analysis a campaign has to do. Trippi says that the Dean campaign just asked its fans to make those things themselves. That is the right way to think. Open.

Henry Copeland of Blogads asks the panel to speculate what the technology and moment and person will be that changes politics in this campaign. Armstrong says that someone will become the Walter Cronkite of online, mashing up video with a voice. Trippi says that money will explode; within weeks hundreds of millions of dollars will come in from people. “It totally changes the entire game, the big money, the PACs don’t matter anymore… It’s gonna be like a flood.” DeFeo agrees that the volume of contributors will explode. He says that we are still waiting for that moment to arrive when we declare that the internet has dethroned television in campaigns. He believes that this will actually be a series of moments that add up. Ruffini says that online video is meeting a new meet; in the last campaign, you had to be a big guy to post an online video. No more.

Earlier: It’s interesting seeing this from the other end of the pipe. I’m used to looking at this from the media end; they’re looking at it from the spin end. Ruffini says the online campaign has to be integrated into all parts of the campaign. (Same message we’re hearing in media today.) Trippi agrees that there shouldn’t be a wall. At the Dean campaign, he said, the web team was right outside his office so if you wanted to get to him, you had to go through them. (Maybe editors should surround themselves with web folk.) Trippi raises questions about the Clinton campaign using a letter signed by Madeleine Albright for fundraising and wonders how that decision was made. Armstrong says that too often, material raised for the offline campaign is merely repurposed rather than rethought for online. (Yet another media parallel.) DeFeo says that campaigns are bad R&D environments.

(Crossposted at PrezVid.)

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  • http://deleted Tansley

    Hm. And thereby we will see the mutation of campaigning. To the potential waffling and counter-watching, add the ‘change of course’ prompted by the mood swings of bloggers. Blogger X experiences a sudden ‘change of heart’ upon learning candidate Q is positioned against this industry or that environmental issue – and X is suddenly villifying candidate Q and examining the merits of candidate Z, who is FOR this or that industry or environmental issue… Meanwhile, Blogger X is taking X number of his/her readers along for the ride. Suddenly an entire voter block has jumped ship. The campaign founders, taken aback by the sudden trough in support… all hands on deck!…

    This is going to make for some VERY interesting politics in the coming years…

    ‘… Editors surrounding themselves with ‘web folk?…’ What are you reading in the W.C., Jeff — Dante?

  • http://www.hammer2006.blogspot.com Alex Hammer

    Online politics is beginning to reach a critical mass, a tipping point if you will. That is what we are seeing at Politics 2.0, and many others are discussing as well.

    If TV in politics was in some sense democratization FOR the masses, new media, citizen journalism and candidate 2.0 campaigns are the beginning of political democratization BY the masses.

    As Joe Trippi notes in his book title after helping to build this foundation with the Howard Dean campaign, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”.

    Before everyone had an opinion. Now – and it’s just beginning – everyone has an opinion that counts, that is specifically that the candidates are starting to increasingly recognize and in some cases covet.

    When I have my opinion but it’s backed up by my video camera that draws thousands of views on YouTube and other video sites, and my pen (keyboard) for my blog that has thousands of daily readers, then the candidates will begin to take me as a voter but now also campaign particpant seriously, as they have. And when you consider the long tail of these contributions collectivelly across the poitical ecological landscape, you can see why a “paradigm shift” and “sea change” of the landscape is in order.

    But we’re not there yet.

    Candidates, in large part, are trying to get by with massive amounts of “friends” and one way video messages. But the most Internet progressive among them are plunging further, with interactive social networks to build true communities. Individuals engaged with real bonds that they foster, nurture and control are always the most emotionally invested and involved.

    They say that Bill Clinton less than sparingly used the Lincoln bedroom to reward his friends. The winner of the Presidency in 2008 is likely to need more than one White House to sufficientlly pay tribute to assistance received.

  • http://deleted Tansley

    Yes, Alex…and it will be interesting to see the forms those favors take. I can think of one example immediately: candidate Z, in gratitude for Blogger X’s shift into candidate Z’s camp, begins posting (judiciously) in blogger X’s blog…suddenly prompting a quantum leap in readership and resultant buzz…
    …which equals more clicks for blogger X re: the ads carried on his blog…

    …hmm…this is starting to scare even ME…

  • http://spaceygreview.blogspot.com/ SpaceyG

    “Anyone can do it”…. ha! The comments of someone who’s edited zero frames of video for a living. I’ve been in the production biz for a zillion years now, and I still can’t edit worth a damn. Believe me, I’ve tried. It’s not for everyone and it requires skill to do well. Personally, if I was hired to “small TV” a campaign, I’d do it with a designated photog AND a crack editor. It’s a lot harder than people think to crank video product. At least to do the kinda packaging worthy of a Presidential campaign and to meet the incessant deadline demands of today’s super-charged political campaigns. Heck, before we hit ’08, video production demands will seriously exceed a “kid and a camera.” Anyone thinking of cheaping everything down to that level is asking for trouble.

    Can I get an amen, Brother NewMediaJim?

  • http://www.vergenewmedia.com Jim Long

    Amen SpaceyG!! I’d like to associate myself with the comments of the gentlewoman from Georgia, Grayson Daughters. “Anyone” can blog but good bloggers know how hard it is to continually post great stuff.
    The “anyone can do it” meme comes with the attendant, yet oft unstated “but not everyones should”.

    On a professional note, I’m glad Chuck Todd is on our team at NBC.

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