Mobile video, the elections & local campaigns – case study in Cambridge with Emily Thornberry MP


Make it easier for community reporters to film & interview your candidates & activists, and you too could get a stack load of free footage that works away while you sleep

Being a community reporter is a surprisingly lonely business even when you are surrounded by lots and lots of people. I counted nearly 30 people who turned up for a canvassing session for the Romsey Labour Party in Cambridge – Romsey Town historically being a working class community in Cambridge where you had lots of people employed on the railways, people who worked in agriculture and also as I found out, a sizeable membership of the co-operative movement. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was scheduled to pay a visit, and Romsey Labour Party tweeted me in advance.

Emily Thornberry MP and Romsey Labour, Cambridge. 22 Apr 2017

Some of the people who turned out to meet Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry MP on Mill Road, Cambridge.

My video interviews

As I’ve stated before, my interview style is to inform the interviewee of the questions I’m going to ask before recording. This is because I want interviewees to give informed and extended answers without interruptions from me. I could have gone in with a series of hostile questions and an aggressive line of questioning, but that’s what the mainstream media does. I try to be different and go for the challenge of putting politicians and holders of public office in a more positive light – especially given the state of our democracy.

I saved the three interview clips with Ms Thornberry in the playlist of Labour election videos here. As I mentioned at the start of 2017, my deal for local candidates standing for election in and around Cambridge is an offer to film free short introduction videos. (I now have videos from four of the five parties standing in Cambridge). At the same time I also encourage people to donate to help cover my filming expenses.


So if you can afford it, please do. (Also, ***a big thank you*** for those of you that already have – your support is extremely welcome and helps promote democracy (and an improved understanding of it) across our city). From the Petersfield hustings and the campaigns today, I’ve had over 200 views of videos I have uploaded, so people are watching. For the whole of 2014, so nearly four months, I’ve had over 13,000 views and over 35,000 minutes of footage viewed – an incredible figure given the relatively small geographical area I cover.

Asking about the post-EU Referendum period

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee was scathing about the failure of the Government to do any contingency planning for a Brexit vote – as this newspaper report explains. The select committee itself wrote as follows:

“The previous Government’s considered view not to instruct key Departments including the FCO to plan for the possibility that the electorate would vote to leave the EU amounted to gross negligence. It has exacerbated post-referendum uncertainty both within the UK and amongst key international partners, and made the task now facing the new Government substantially more difficult.” [Para 19]

So I invited Ms Thornberry to comment.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary on the lack of contingency plans for leaving the EU

Open question, allow interviewee to respond at length, publish, publicise – and then let the viewer come to their own conclusion.

Enabling the public to hear candidates in their own voices, and having an historical record of senior national politicians visiting and speaking in Cambridge

It’s easy to forget that in reporting on all of this, I’m not just trying to be a sort-of-journalist, but also I’m creating content for the historians of the future. I intend to be long gone before the historians of 100 years time and beyond try to work out what was happening around the time of the UK leaving the EU. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because my heart’s sort of in tears because we have no video or audio recordings of the Cambridge Heroes such as Eglantyne Jebb and Florence Ada Keynes in my Lost Cambridge project. It wasn’t for a lack of technology at the time.

Lots of photos, tweets, and video footage for local campaigners

We live in a world where mainstream and local publications are shrinking in terms of readership and funds to pay for qualified full time journalists. Incredibly sad I believe for civic society generally. It also means that there are fewer journalists and publications targeted by the same – if not growing number of institutions for press releases. Basically if you’ve not got that in-house capacity to create your own content, you need someone else to do it for you. Furthermore, the intermediary will also influence how the public judges the content – ie if it’s from an official party source or if it’s from someone independent of those parties.

Pioneers in and around Cambridge

Over the past few years it has been the Cambridge Green Party that has been the most innovative, open and accessible when it comes to media access and content creation. They now regularly create their own video content on mobile phones and upload them directly to their Facebook page.

Not surprisingly, other parties are beginning to pick up on this – most recently some of the Liberal Democrats in Cambridge such as Nicky Shepard standing in Abbey Division. Both parties have noticeably started using paid targeted social media pitches for their video content. It’ll be interesting to see what impact this has at a local level.

I may be an insecure, attention-seeking politics junkie at the best of times, but I don’t want and don’t need to be everywhere

Not least because my health won’t let me. I generally take the view that if someone else is filming a hustings or political debate, especially in the run up to an election, then I don’t need to be there. The nicest feedback I get from people is when they tell me they were able to watch the footage of a meeting that I had filmed. Generally it only needs a handful of people to watch such footage for me to feel that it was well worth attending, filming, editing & publishing. This is because I know there is a high chance that the viewers are going to act upon what they have heard/watched. No one sits through a 2 hour council meeting video and does nothing with what they heard. Whether it’s a conversation, an email, a contribution to a meeting, it’s these hundreds of ‘micro-actions’ that strengthen our democracies.

Message to local political parties?

Just give me a little advance notice and more often than not I can rock up with a camcorder and create some video content. What a lot of you miss is some of the coaching and retakes that I also take interviewees through. I want good quality footage just as much as the interviewee. If the footage is really poor, I won’t publish it. The advantage of video for candidates is that it’s your face and your voice that’s doing the work potentially while you are asleep. Take Lib Dems candidate for Petersfield, Emma Bates below.

Emma Bates of Cambridge Liberal Democrats, standing in Petersfield Division for the Cambridgeshire County Council elections on 04 May 2017.

Over 30 views in the first 24 hours of the video being uploaded, and even more on Facebook where it’s also been uploaded to party pages. Given that the average viewing time of my videos hovers around the 2 minute mark (and was at this level before I started making these short election intro clips), a short intro video is often all that is needed for residents to decide if they want to give your candidate a further hearing or not, and/or whether the candidate is someone they would want to vote for. It may sound like a very small number of views, but remember we are talking a very short space of time, a technique still in its infancy, institutions not embedding social media in mainstream communications, an election where the winner doesn’t end up with a huge amount of power, in a geographically confined area at an event that had very limited publicity. As time progresses, these variables will inevitably change.

It’s not the stuff that’ll replace door-to-door, but it is the sort of content that can easily appear in people’s social media feeds for people to watch/listen to when in a cafe, on a bus, in a waiting room etc. And every other person under the age of 30 seems to have headphones on these days – the very cohort conspicuous by their absence in local democracy.




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