Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Obama and Politics 2.0: Documenting History in Real Time

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, July 17 2008

I'm taking a crack at liveblogging an event tonight [ed. -- now last night] at NYU featuring Arun Chaudhary, director of video field production for the Obama campaign, in conversation with Ellen McGirt, senior writer at Fast Company and author of magazine's April 2008 cover story "The Brand Called Obama." Arun left his job as an adjunct film professor at NYU to produce video that pulls from public events, behind the scenes, and one-on-ones -- unique creative content that populates and a YouTube channel. Let's get started.

(Originally posted at

I'm taking a crack at liveblogging an event tonight [ed. -- now last night] at NYU featuring Arun Chaudhary, director of video field production for the Obama campaign, in conversation with Ellen McGirt, senior writer at Fast Company and author of magazine's April 2008 cover story "The Brand Called Obama." Arun left his job as an adjunct film professor at NYU to produce video that pulls from public events, behind the scenes, and one-on-ones -- unique creative content that populates and a YouTube channel. Let's get started.

Asked about the new media team, Arun describes at least 50 people crammed into one corner of an office building floor with with "pictures of JFK and graph paper tacked up on the wall." Arun says the new media team spends a fair amount of money, but they're buying fishing poles rather than fish; the broadcast quality footage they capture, for example, can be used for advertising in addition to online video. Asked about past campaigns he tried working with, Arun says they saw media as "too precious" to take creative risks with.

Arun explains his hire by the campaign by saying 'you can learn the politics. You can learn how to navigate these worlds. But you can't really learn the trades very quickly.' The campaign has been attracting successful people that way, he says, naming Facebook's Chris Hughes, who came on to handle social-networking. Arun then screens a well-crafted mock movie trailer calling people to a rally in New York's Washington Square Park that features Obama in slightly goofy situations. Ellen: "We've never seen anything like this before":

Ellen asks if the technology was in place three years ago to make video like this. "The technology was there three years ago, but I don't think the right audience was," says Arun. Back then, he jokes, there were just six hundred of the same people commenting on political blogs and that's it; online participation today spans a wider segment of the population.* Ellen ask how he managed to get approval for the trailer video from the campaign and the candidate. Arun laughs a bit nervously, "I don't know if the candidate saw it," but says that it made its way, he believes, to the level of campaign manager.

The next video was crafted to call people to the pre-Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, as, Arun says, showing organizational strength was the key to getting attention and momentum in that state. Ellen asks if there was a concern that Obama and guest attendee John Legend were the only African-Americans seen in the clip. Arun pointed to the Internet Archive's Prelinger Archives as the source of the overly white footage. (At the actual event, the video team had five cameras and five videographers in place capturing footage.):

Next video. An Iowa call-to-caucus piece, says Arun, is a campaign classic. It both asks Iowans to caucus for their particular candidate and educates voters on how to actually go through the confusing caucusing process. Both the Obama campaign and the Edwards campaign went the route of a dated instructional-style video, he says. (Arun praises the Hillary Clinton campaign's call-to-caucus video which featured Bill Clinton eating a cheeseburger and saying something along the lines of "exercising is hard, but caucusing is easy."):

It was the campaign's "traditional media" team, says Arun, that whipped together a quick response to the Clinton campaign's 3 a.m. phone call ad. But the new media team tracked down the young girl in the stock footage, Casey Knowles, an Obama precinct captain in Washington State. In the one-minute video, Casey deconstructs the techniques in the Clinton ad -- the blue tint to the footage, the "scratchy voice" -- and slams the "politics of fear." An ad like that, says Arun, would never make on air, but works well online:

The candidate was in Terre Haute, Arun says, when the news broke that Obama had earlier made remarks in California concerning "bitter" Americans. Obama inserted a response to the incident in his Indiana speech. The new media team, says Arun, edited, packaged, and released the candidate's own words within 19 minutes of the speech's delivery. A lesson learned, says Arun, is that people are actually interested in the "sound blast," and will watch long clips in their entirety:

He also cites Obama's speech at their Chicago headquarters.The 14 minute clip shows the candidate addressing his staff, both in person and through a conference call (which creates a few minutes of less-than-thrilling footage when the call goes dead and Obama has to stall while it's reconnected). It wasn't deliberately shot low-fi for an extra dose of authenticity, Arun says, as some people suggested. There was no intention to create some sort of "Tanner 88" moment. It was just, he says, that there was an intern manning the camera:

Asked by Emily about what an Obama administration might bring, Arun says that the role of video in an administration would be even more powerful than in a campaign. He mentions the broadcasting of health care meetings -- creating a broader base of people who are able to keep an eye on the proceedings. The idea, Arun says, is not 'telling people who tell people to tell people,' but to use video to tell people directly. The role of video in governing, he says, is to achieve the goal of "cutting out the middleman."


Question: There's a discontinuity in your work with high video quality and no sound mixing. Why?
Arun: We shoot as high quality as we can because it might be used for broadcast, but get used to it -- a lot of the networks are going so broke that they're getting rid of their "sound guys."

Question: What role with user-generated content play in presidential campaigns?

Arun: Using voter-generated content while probably remain "an unrealized ideal." Much of the content that gets sent to them is "a little strange."

Question: Why is new media going to make young people come out and vote?

It isn't. Barack Obama is what is going to make people come out and vote.

Question: If you embrace an interactive politics 2.0, how do you avoid politicizing governing?

Arun: I think we're ready for 1.5. We'll [ed. -- a clarification: "we" here is a reference to political campaigns in general, and to the tools that might come into common use -- not a reference to the Obama campaign in particular] have virtual townhalls, for sure.

* Updated to correct: The original line referenced political blogs; in making the joke, Arun was referencing hard-core blog commenters.

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

Civic Hackers Call on de Blasio to Fill Technology Vacancies

New York City technology advocates on Wednesday called on the de Blasio administration to fill vacancies in top technology policy positions, expressing some frustration at the lack of a leadership team to implement a cohesive technology strategy for the city. GO

China's Porn Purge Has Only Just Begun, And Already Sina Is Stripped of Publication License

It seems that China is taking spring cleaning pretty seriously. On April 13 they launched their most recent online purge, “Cleaning the Web 2014,” which will run until November. The goal is to rid China's Internet of pornographic text, pictures, video, and ads in order to “create a healthy cyberspace.” More than 100 websites and thousands of social media accounts have already been closed, after less than a month. Today the official Xinhua news agency reported that the authorities have stripped the Internet giant Sina (of Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging site) of its online publication license. This crackdown on porn comes on the heels of a crackdown on “rumors.” Clearly, this spring cleaning isn't about pornography, it's about censorship and control.


wednesday >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.


tuesday > Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and And strangely enough, seems to want its early users to ask for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.


monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.


The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.