a tale of two candidate???s video distribution strategies, my post looking at the recent spate of online candidate videos, has circulated a bit on the fringes of the political blog and citizen journalism communities. The first person to comment on it was Brian Russell (Yesh.com), who noted that Ruby Sinreich (lotusmedia.org) first shared the article with him. In that article I had linked to a YouTube video that Brian and Ruby had created responding to Edward’s presidential announcement. A few days later, the Yesh article was picked up by A Blog Around the Clock, which it turn was mirrored on Science Blogs. Finally, Aldon Hynes of the Orient Lodge and Greater Democracy responded to the dialog in post entitled Hope is Presidential.

Simply observing the circulation of my text is a revealing experience (as is watching the flow of related traffic to that post, thank you Feedburner). It also has been reinforcing the things one must think about when they endeavour to begin online fieldwork, especially if one chooses to do so in a public manner. In a wonderful little essay Fire, Loss, and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Robart Sanjek, recounted the story about how the anthropologist Ethel Albert once discovered her Rwandan field assistant Muntu clandestinely interviewing one of Albert’s informants. When asked what he was doing, Muntu replied “Anthropological research, like you. But I know the language, so my research will be better than yours.”[1] Muntu made it clear that what he was recording was his research and he didn’t intend to share it. Of this incident Sanjek wrote:

[Muntu’s] challenge to Albert embodies the present reality of a world in which those whom anthropologists study, everywhere, can read (and write) fieldnotes, let along ethnography. (Sanjek, 1990: 39)

I’m hard pressed to think of an environment this is more true of than the blogosphere. I can’t conceive of conducting online research and not placing some of it into online notes (be they a blog or a wiki). And the moment that occurs, your notes no longer belong to just you. So these types of discussions and circulations become an important part of the fieldwork process. Especially considering that the entire relationship between researcher and informants (or whatever the going term is these days) is so odd. We’re all creating media artifacts and putting them out there for the world to discover, never quite sure of who is viewing what.

The points that Brian and Aldon raised were all good things for me to think about. One thing in particular was Aldon’s comment:

Sen. Edwards??? announcement video on YouTube was a step in the direction of recognizing the different language of online videos, but there is still much further to go. What are the popular online videos? Ask a Ninja, Hope is Emo, Lonelygirl115 and various coke and mentos videos come to mind. Perhaps the 2008 candidates can learn from these videos.

Edwards and Obama can duke it out to see who gets ???Hope is Presidential???. Sen. Clinton, after her webcasts might think about engaging the folks at Ask a Ninja to come up with Ask a Candidate. The lesser know candidates can struggle to see who will be the next Lonely Candidate 2008. The real question is whose videos will be the coke and mentos of the 2008 campaign season. I haven???t seen any like that yet.

Aldon mentions Ask a Ninja, Hope is Emo, and Lonelygirl15 as YouTube exemplars. I’m not quite sure what the candidates can learn from these content creators, as they all are essentially “old media” examples in the new media space. All of these are professionally produced (read as scripted, acted, filmed, and edited by professionals). Lonelygirl15 is an even stranger example to invoke in an essay about grassroots “politicing,” considering that at it’s core Lonelygirl15 was a “manipulation” – professionally produced content presenting itself as reality. That notion of “reality” is at the core of recent political and YouTube discussions. It leads us to these questions that pop up both in regards to candidate’s online presence and to the YouTube/LiveVideo conflict.

What is authenticity in this digital space (provided it’s any different than authenticity in the so-called real world). The negotitation of it, like fieldnotes, is something I’m going to be doing a lot of thinking on in the weeks, months, and years to come.


Bernius, M. (2007) a tale of two candidate???s video distribution strategies
Hynes, A. (2007) Hope is Presidential
Russell, B. (2007) Analyzing Campaign Video Distro Strategies
Sanjek, R. (1990) “Fire, Loss, and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in Fieldnotes: The making of Anthropology. Cornell University Press. Ithica NY.