Cambridge Canvassing for Hillary


I attended a canvassing event for Hillary Clinton’s campaign this morning in Cambridge, and challenged myself to cover it using video – specifically, using the Videolicious app that Gordon shared with us a couple of weeks ago. Having made my deadline for filing the report, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on some points that may be of help and interest to the class.

But first, I’d like to express my gratitude to a volunteer featured in the report – also named Hillary – who very graciously allowed me to accompany her for part of her canvassing activity, was more than happy to talk with me, and didn’t object to my capturing a few moments on digital film. (Hillary, if you ended up reading this, thank you for your kindness and of course, enthusiasm!)

On the tool:

In many ways, Videolicious is an amazing and promising app, but – particularly if you do not have an account (which are only available through institutional licenses) – there are some limitations:

  • Most importantly – personal, mobile-only accounts can only record 1 minute of video. Though I might have used different software, I wanted to give this tool a try given its intuitive interface and potential usefulness “on the go” for the future. If nothing else, this aspect did make the assignment an important lesson in editing.
  • Many special editing features and higher quality materials (i.e. HD video output) are also not available in the personal, mobile-only accounts.
  • The way the camera is positioned on your phone makes framing the “talking head” portion of your report somewhat challenging – although I tacked up my script, unless you have a well-placed teleprompter or can speak extemporaneously it is even more difficult to balance eye direction, background, and lighting with the practicalities of delivering the report in a short timeframe and in a less than ideal space.
  • Some video clips are too short to capture in the final piece, and get skipped over – it may be an understandable cutoff of around 1 second or less, but should otherwise have been enough frames recorded for use in other software.

On the experience:

I truly enjoyed this opportunity to get out in the field, interact with people and ask questions, and think journalistically about the coverage of an event. And although writing a text-based piece would have been its own kind of challenge – given that my background is more in communications than traditional journalism – I am glad that I pushed myself even further out of my comfort zone to try the video. (Though I will admit that being able to use my photography skills was, at least, a small comfort.)

With the app-imposed time limit, I found that I cut a lot out of material that I might normally include in a story – this made me think about the importance of marrying visual content like video with the context of written (or other) content. All of these components were also a lot to think about at once – capturing soundbites, images, video, names, etc. and thinking about publishing across multiple platforms is a lot for one reporter to do, but is becoming more and more common.

On participatory media:

Provided that our class is considering citizen participation in journalism, it seemed appropriate to attend a very civically- and politically-minded event. It did not disappoint. For example, state legislator Sal DiDomenico made several comments about the media’s role in buoying Bernie Sanders’ chances against Hillary Clinton in the interest of a contested primary. Every speaker, meanwhile, made a point about the important role played by the volunteers in attendance in getting the word out about the candidate. People become an even more integral part of the message and dissemination of media content.

My guide to canvassing (the volunteer Hillary mentioned above) also had some very sharp reflections on how she and her peers have been using social media in this presidential race. The “staying power” of repeated headlines (via social media sharing) stood out to her. And she was also amazed at how quickly a tweet she had sent, for example, was picked up and retweeted into the wider conversation beyond her immediate circle.

Given the caliber of speakers, it is not surprising that members of the press were in attendance. Yet there seemed to be all kinds – a reporter from the New York Times with a trusty notepad, another who appeared to be recording for radio or other audio formats, and several individuals on their phones like me. It made me wonder how different our takeaways and reports might be.