Techpresident.com, a blog tracking the online activities of presidential wannabees, offers a glimpse into how the social web is increasingly influencing the political process in this country.
One fascinating aspect to this site is a space dedicated to pictures using the Flickr photo-sharing site. If a picture is tagged with a candidates name, Techpresident links to it. In other words, if you are a campaign rally, all the images you upload to Flickr could have the potential to influence public perception of a candidate. It's a new twist on spin from stumpurbia.
What makes this site significant is how it is using the phrase "Votojournalism" to refer to citizen photojournalism. As the site explains:
'We call it "votojournalism" because it is a prime example of voter generated content, photojournalism by the people."
According to the corporate web consultancy firm iDionome, votojournalism is “The excellent portmanteau of Voter and Photojournalism, for voter-generated content where users post pictures of the candidates on the campaign trail, online.”
Techpresident's pitch offers an alternative to the professional spin applied to typical media coverage of a candidate's life during a campaign. As the pitch reads:
"You'll find lots of candid shots here, including those of people attending campaign events, along with the presidentials in sometimes unguarded moments."
The reach of the media spotlight on candidates is now expanding exponentially with the possibilities of the Internet and the social web. Anyone with a camera phone is potentially a "votojournalist", looking to catch that one decisive "tell-all" moment that may influence a candidate's chances to become president.
Although this activity may be beneficial for democracy -- now have more "eyes" than ever before scrutinizing the political process -- we also must be careful not to fall for the redactive nature of photography. The concern here is that the torrent of images we have to deal with on a daily basis tends to reduce complex events into bytes and bits. In turn, an unvetted and relentless stream of images appears intimidating and overwhelming for many people to process. Or, in other words, our visual memory banks is in danger of running over. Votojournalism, then, is creating another visual memory stream for people to contend with in the complex history of the political process. Our visual memory of events is altered by a relentless stream of image -- images that simplify and reduce the complexities of our times to an informational/representational system that appears increasingly biased and unvetted.
At the same time, the burden of responsibility falls to the consumer to not be sucked into the potential for abuse by propagandists, spin doctors, and unscrupulous people with a flair for Photoshop. As Washington Post writer Jose Antonio Vargas reports, “For months now, there's been a disconnect between the campaign that's being waged offline and the one fought online. And the digital divide is only one part of that gulf. Political support and political fundraising don't match up on the Web either.”
This unvetted stream of "votojournalism" is not only exciting to see develop but it inevitably creates enormous challenges for its competition, the mainstream media.
In fact, we can assume the coming reality will be that a "votojournalist" or anyone on the campaign staff or close to a candidate will actually have much better access than many of their professional counterparts in the mainstream media. The level of access afforded a votojournalist, with the camera and the Internet, may actually have the advantage of scooping accredited news sources .
While many professional photojournalists find themselves penned into some highly controlled media staging area, others, particularly supporters with a ticket to $1,000-a-plate fund raiser will have free reign and access to make pictures and upload as nauseum.
The photo-op is now moving away from the high theatrics of stage management and is becoming a primary "free-for-all" conduit for pictures and video -- inevitably ending up on sites like Flickr, MySpace, or Facebook.
It follows, then, that these same images will make there way into the mainstream press under some auspicious byline called "submitted photo."