Virginia Heffernan often writes her "Medium" column in the Times Magazine with the seeming assumption that her readers don't own computers or read anything in print but her -- an odd approach for someone who writes regularly about the intersection of technology, commerce and ideas.
But even by Heffernan's standards, today's installment, "Clicking and Choosing: The election according to YouTube" goes as bit far in assuming her readers know as little about the world as she apparently does. Heffernan essentially devotes an entire column to the topic of politicians using YouTube to promote themselves -- a trend covered so often elsewhere that perhaps it seemed, suddenly, new all over again to her weary editors.
Or maybe they just like having stories regurgitated in the manner of a Wikipedia entry, for easy digestion. That's Hefferman's specialty.
"During the presidential election," Heffernan begins, "YouTube turned from a hectic mosaic of weird video clips to a first-stop source for political everything. Every gotcha moment, spoof, pundit’s musing, TV clip, campaign speech, formal ad and handmade polemic cropped up there."
After a bit of matter-of-fact historical background -- "YouTube" didn't exist in 2004," she helpfully informs those readers who've just returned from a four-year trip to the Indonesian jungle -- Heffernan then goes on to tell us that long speeches, offhand jokes and controversial interviews all made it online in the YouTube format. She counts each candidate's videos (McCain has 330, Obama 1,821), explains how a former political reporter now at YouTube encouraged candidates to use the website, and lists several examples of famous YouTube campaign moments, such as will.i.am's hugely famous "Yes We Can" music video.
Does she truly not realize that all this information -- and more -- was reported hundreds of times elsewhere over the last year of the campaign? Have her editors been equally remiss in reading about web video's role in electoral politics? Here's just one of dozens of articles on the topic, this a piece in the June 25, 2007 Economist, that began: "It has been called the YouTube election." That's right, 17 months ago.
It might have been worth it to slog through the same old thesis and information, perhaps, if Heffernan had some new insight to offer. But in the end, she has nothing to say that doesn't go without saying. Here's her stating-the-obvious conclusion from the just-ended YouTube campaign:
As a minicivilization, though — with heroes and villains and mores and bylaws — YouTube is a fascinating place. In 2008, a group of dogged politicos climbed its hierarchy. They created some videos that glorified the persona of the orator, and others that censured anyone playful or reckless enough to sing about bombing Iran. As he was in the election, the big winner on YouTube was Barack Obama.
Obama's victory also falls into the category of previously reported news.
But let's stay hopeful for next week's Heffernan column, which will address the fact that more American appear to be "Googling" things.