New media a major factor in the 2008 campaignby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
The advent of YouTube and other Internet video sites fueled a new breed of citizen journalists during the midterm elections a couple of years ago, and the trend is expected to grow this election year. Already there are signs in Minnesota that the candidates are paying attention.
St. Paul, Minn. — Jason Barnett is showing off the space he just rented for his new media startup, The UpTake, located across the street from the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"This office space is really important, because we are going to be the closest media outlet with office space to the Xcel Center for the Republican National Convention," says Barnett.
The nonprofit UpTake launched a few months ago with the goal of training citizen video journalists to cover the elections and the Democratic and Republican National conventions.
The group dispatched videographers to Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan. The footage streamed live and was then edited and posted on The UpTake's Web site, and on video sites like YouTube and Blip.
UpTake plans to cover the upcoming Nevada and South Carolina primaries, and the Minnesota caucuses.
The UpTake's goal is to train amateurs to find stories that might be missed by the professional news media. Barnett says the amateur approach can often produce fresh angles, and more personal stories tailored for the Internet that wouldn't necessarily work on television.
George Washington University Professor Michael Cornfield says groups like The UpTake are fast eroding the boundaries between professional and amateur.
"I think they are going away in almost every aspect of life that the Internet touches," says Cornfield. "We buy our own stocks, we book our own plane flights, we publish our own diaries. It only makes sense that we get into the business of participating in the surveillance -- surveillance in a good way -- of our own public institutions."
And the candidates are paying attention.
Stephen Smith, director of online communications for the Mitt Romney campaign, says he recently had two video bloggers on the campaign press plane along with reporters from the traditional news media.
He says it's in the best interest of his campaign to speak to as many citizen journalists as possible.
"It's the viral nature of this kind of media that -- even if the particular individual doesn't have a built-in readership of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of individuals the way The New York Times does -- if they did something remarkable or captured something in video, then it might well be seen by that very same amount of people and have that kind of impact," Smith says.
Citizen journalists may have even more impact on local campaigns than national ones.
Longtime political operative John Wodele is working on the campaign of 6th Congressional District candidate Elwyn Tinklenberg. He's working citizen journalists into the coverage mix.
"Campaigns care, at least in my experience," Wodele says. "While the technology is rather crude, they don't have studios, they meet you in coffee shops but they are very serious about it. You know, it isn't MPR, it's not Pat Kessler, it's not Almanac, but it can add to the process, I think."
Wodele says he uses the same criteria to evaluate citizen journalists as he does for the traditional media. Mainly, it's about the size and demographic of their audience and whether the candidate has the time. Equally important, Wodele says, the content has to be accurate and well-produced.
The speed of the 24/7 news cycle means that all media outlets are hungrier than ever for content. As even print media gets in on video, citizen journalism may be in a good position to take advantage.
The UpTake's Jason Barnett says the nonprofit and largely volunteer structure of his group makes it more nimble than some traditional media.
"If a bunch of citizens just throw their computer in their backpack and their camera, and run and do what CNN does for a fraction of the budget, where is all that money going? Can citizens actually do the exact same thing that CNN can do?" Barnett says. "If it is the same thing, we are doing it for a whole lot less money."
In fact, traditional news organizations have been experimenting in recent years with a similar model.
Most major media organizations now require their reporters to produce multimedia news on the fly from the field. And some traditional news organizations are now featuring amateur content along with their own.
- Morning Edition, 01/17/2008, 6:50 a.m.