Continuing my Web Videos That Suck! Series, I review some videos put out by elected officials in positions of U.S. Congress or State Legislature, submitted by our readers-slash-viewers. Learn why a poorly produced web video can overshadow the content of any political message, and some tips for how politicians can produce better political videos that resonate with their constituents and the media.
Why Elected Politicians Shouldn't Make Videos That Suck
Just to note, I'm not singling out these chose videos for any political partisanship of my own. My selections are on the basis of what matters for my review here: Poor production quality and/or poor content choices.
Why should politicians pay attention to such things? I believe it's because they have an adverse effect on the politician's choice of message that they wish to influence their constituents with. Web video professionals are well aware that audiences can be easily distracted by poor video production. When a politician puts out a web video with poor video production, then their own audience (i.e., their constituents and the media covering them) will then easily distracted from that politician's message, and the video will thus be a failure to that politician's political agenda. I would also argue that the higher the level of office, the more expectations on their web production capabilities (short of something meant for a tweet or Facebook post recorded on a smartphone).
Examples of Elected Politician Videos That Suck
Politician Suck #1: Issa Committee Hearings on YouTube
This submission comes courtesy of the Online VNR Website. I agree with the writer that posting hearings on YouTube is a good idea, regardless of your political leanings. But with any good idea comes the need for good execution in your video. Here's our review:
Political agenda: U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, recently announced that entire hearings of his committee would be posted on YouTube … Issa says he's doing this to make the committee's activities more transparent and available to the public.
Channel overview: This YouTube channel includes this and other hearings as far back at 1987. ""If you've been longing to hear what U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns said in a 1994 hearing about the proper labeling of fresh and frozen chicken, you're in luck.”
Why this video sucks:
"Issa says the videos will be in 'high quality,' but the production of his video announcement falls short and seems amateurish…
- Poor audio – "The audio is awful because they likely used a consumer camcorder without an external microphone.”
- Poor camera angles – "The camera focused directly on Issa's face for the entire one and a half minutes, and there are three dissolves to side views of the congressman speaking to an unseen (and likely nonexistent) audience. These side views are distracting and unnecessary.”
- Poor lighting – "Proper lighting can make the subject standout from the background and make the image pop… Without proper lighting, Issa, seems one-dimensional against the background.”
Issa's own political action committee YouTube Channel, The Committee on Oversight & Government Reform," also consistently suffers from these same production issues. Check out his most recent web video (below), where he sounds like he's talking from a tunnel?
This video comes from the New Jersey Senate Republicans' YouTube Channel, featuring state senator Sean Kean. I'll give Senator Kean points for using a handheld microphone for good audio, although I think it would have been more effective to have a lapel mic on him. (Politicians who hold their own mics can be mistaken for a newscaster.) But the big suck here is the overwhelming white glare. The person who submitted this video to me shared, "I don't think I've seen a video more blown out than this one. You can't see the beach or the top of senator's shoulders. Despite what you may have heard, the sky in New Jersey is not white.”
Senator Kean seemed to have learned from his earlier mistake and improved his video production along, along with his delivery style, as you can see in this more recent sample below. (Too bad the New Jersey Senate Republicans haven't updated their YouTube channel for nearly a year now.)
Politician Suck #3: New Jersey Senate Democrats' Camera Hoggy-ness
The person who submitted this video to me remarked, "Do you think it would have been interesting to see some b-roll of a technician working on a copier and removing the hard drive? How about a soundbite from an identify theft victim or law enforcement officer? Instead we're subjected to three and half minutes of two politicians talking into the camera.”
"The lighting is lousy and I doubt the camera was white balanced. Maybe change the background behind each senator when they talk into the camera. Instead of having each of them stand in the same room, take one into the hallway for their standup.”
"How about this for an idea: Provide links or phone numbers to resources so people can protect themselves from identity theft.”
I would have also suggested this: Show actual constituents (New Jersey citizens) who suffered from the identity theft, and have them briefly share their stories.
Tips for Elected Political Officials: Make Web Videos That Don't Suck
Here are some of the most common things I've found on YouTube that elected politicians really need to improve on, which I think can also really benefit anyone doing message-based video:
- Always try to get the best audio. You're doing video because you want to share a message that influences constituents and the media. Getting the clearest audio is absolutely essential to keeping your audience focused on your message, especially if it's more than a soundbyte.
- Feature other people along with you. If you're talking about an particular issue, bring people on camera who are either directly responsible for treating the issue, or are directly affected by the issue. (Better yet, get both.)
- Feature B-roll footage. Some face time is good, but it's not all about you! Talking heads of politicians for an entire video, even a charismatic one that's minutes long can make people lose interest. (I find exceptions with the really polarizing or kooky ones, but then it's no longer about the message, is it?) To keep people focused on your message, splice your video with broadcast news video footage, or photos, or graphics of whatever your message is about, and the people it affects.
- Include graphic soundbytes. For every key point you're making, have a text graphic that accentuates that point. Audiences respond to bold text graphics on video when a speaker is talking. (Pairing that text graphic with a visual, other than yourself talking, can be even more effective.)
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, #15026269