Presidential campaigns have a way of defining changes in media. Franklin Roosevelt made effective use of the radio in his election bid in 1932. Richard Nixon was the first politician to use television to speak directly to voters in 1952. John F. Kennedy showed that preparing for the characteristics of television helped him during the televised debates in 1960. Bloggers pretty much decided the election in 2004. In 2008 it will be the use of YouTube or citizen generated media that has made inroads and I expect 2012 will see its effective use by a candidate.
Both campaigns used YouTube to post campaign commercials. John McCain may have started the rewriting of Fair Use policy when some of his posts from news shows were taken down after networks complained of copyright infringement. CNN and YouTube collaborated on having people video questions for Republican and Democratic candidates during the primaries. Now YouTube, PBS, and GroundReport are teaming up for Video Your Vote which encourages people to video their experiences during the voting process and are giving away Flip camcorders to make it happen. Yet the biggest surprise is how many people picked up a video camcorder of some kind and shot video that made some kind of statement for one candidate or the other because they wanted to. I receive information e-mails from both the Obama and McCain campaigns (I should disclose that my sister is a county chairwomen for John McCain) and while most of the e-mails are asking for money (which Obama can stop because he can't possibly spend $300 million between now and election day) the McCain campaign surprised me with a call for "I am Joe the Plumber" videos.
The thing for teachers to learn from this is that people are finding new ways to communicate that are easy and cheap to do. I could write, shoot, and edit a campaign commercial for either candidate with a $100 to $150 camcorder that would look decent then upload it on YouTube. All this exercise in democracy would cost next to nothing but time. Take a look at what individuals have created on their own by surfing the campaign videos on YouTube. Think about how you can tap into that creative energy with your students. See if you can't create your own "Joe the Student" video that could change the course of history as much as "Joe the Plumber" might in this election.