For candidates, web is the way

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March 30, 2007

3:08 PM

__Bloggers, Pilchen, Potter use YouTube, Facebook and personal websites to sway voters__

p. I expected him to have a ghostly pallor. I expected him to smoke cigarettes in a darkened corner and to stare at me with beady eyes from beneath the wide brim of his fedora. I guess I expected the College’s first Student Assembly political blogger to be a 20-year-old Matt Drudge. What I didn’t expect was a smiling figure with a cheerful disposition who laughed and, between sips of his Daily Grind chocolate milk, spoke passionately about the current SA campaign.

p. Sophomore David Husband has made it his mission in this election cycle to try to educate the student body about the candidates. In a series of Facebook notes, worth 27 single spaced pages when read from beginning to end, he has chronicled the issues and twists that have come to characterize the current SA campaign. Mixing summary with endorsements and his sometimes contentious analysis and opinion, the resulting articles make an obvious effort to present a fair depiction of all parties involved regardless of any personal political beliefs. His best, perhaps skewed, estimate is that his articles have reached between 1,000 and 1,500 people

p. “I wouldn’t be writing these notes if I didn’t enjoy it,” Husband said. “But I also did it to reduce the information cost necessary for the student body to analyze these candidates. It takes a lot of time and effort to have a firm grasp of what’s going on in the SA, and I wanted to help lower that threshold for people.”

p. Husband’s notes, while impressive on their own, are indicative of a larger movement toward technology-based SA campaigns. The first large-scale sign that the nature of campaigning is changing probably became evident with the burst of Facebook campaign groups that have appeared each spring for the last few years. Seeing the success that many have had with this new medium, candidates have been driven to utilize an ever-increasing number of channels to reach constituents, leading to an arms race-like style of campaigning.

p. “I do think that the technology has changed since I got here four years ago,” current SA President Ryan Scofield, a senior, said. “When I first got involved there was no Facebook, no YouTube, so all of that has really brought something new to the campaign — it allows the candidates to showcase their creativity in a new and different way.”

p. Perhaps the most notable change this year has been the prevalence of YouTube videos during the election cycle. The first videos, representing two different races, came out March 19th — almost a full two weeks before Election Day. The hit counts for the videos soon numbered in the hundreds.

p. Sophomores Zach Pilchen and Valerie Hopkins, presidential and vice presidential hopefuls, presented their platform via voiceover while showing images of the two interacting with different members of the community, all of which was accompanied by the familiar refrain of the “The Eye of the Tiger” theme from “Rocky III.”

p. They quickly followed the first effort with a second video focusing on their program for preventing sexual assault on campus.

p. Junior Matt Brown, a candidate for VP of Advocacy who created another video that also appeared March 19, took a slightly more exaggerated approach to his clip. While his movie presented familiar images of the candidate interacting with the community, Brown played on the clichés of normal state and national campaign advertisements in order to present his platform with a high degree of wit and irony.

p. These movies, which quickly came to dominate the campus political discussion, left many wondering if and when the other candidates would respond. Husband, in notes that came out at the close of the first week, wrote that “the first video of the Pilchen-Hopkins ticket was out the very first day campaigning started and seems to have been a very successful video. Lots of people seem to have viewed it, and it provided a broad overview of the ticket and its goals.”

p. He went on to say that, with the timing and production of the overwhelming shift in the use of technology, there is a sentiment among some that, when we see results reported in the future, it’s not the new methods but the older, more personal ones that will be vindicated.

p. “What hasn’t changed, and is maybe the most important part of the process, is the personal connection, the meet and greets and all of that,” Scofield said. “Making the effort to actually get out and talk to people, rather than just taking five minutes to type a message onto a website, really makes a huge difference, and that’s what really shows a candidate’s worth.”

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