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Local Internet video site aims to transform politics

by Amy Kingsley

When the founders of Policlicks.com start talking about their website, the language gets lofty fast.

“Right now we’re seeing the paradigms change,” said Ross Myers, the vice president of business development. “We’ve taken on the great macro-democratic institutions.”

Policlicks.com, LLC does a number of things, including operating a network of blogs for Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. Most recently, the business partners unveiled Policlicks 2008, a website that aggregates official and unofficial video relating to the politicians who have declared their candidacy for the 2008 presidential race.

It works like this: The home page is divided into columns for Democratic, Republican and third parties, and under each heading is a list of the candidates’ names. Click on a name and the website takes you to the next page, where video is subdivided into official, user-generated and magnified categories.

Official videos are collected from the candidates’ websites and other party channels and often consist of slick political ads, the likes of which clutter up prime time during election season. User-generated clips consist of amateur video or homemade ads submitted by both supporters and detractors of said candidate. The last section features clips collected by Magnify, an internet tool that aggregates any candidate-related clips appearing on Yahoo video, Youtube or other web video sites. Examples of Magnify clips include sections of presidential debates and appearances on talk shows.

“Policlicks knows the value of a neutral, nonpartisan debate platform,” said Tara Sue Clark, the founding CEO.

In addition to being neutral, Policlicks is the only site that organizes candidate videos in a way that makes them easy to reference. When users go to the political channel on Youtube.com, they still have to search by name and click back and forth between pages. Peer reviewers can register and rate the Policlicks videos for quality – a function the founders hope will serve an editorial role that moves the most useful clips to the top of the pile.

The company’s principals see the website not only as another tool for voters and campaigns alike, but as a way to revolutionize the business of politics. Myers and Clark express disdain for mainstream media, speculating that business interests exert too large a role in editorial decision-making. Their website allows candidates and their supporters to address voters in an unimpeded format. They expect their viewers will do the fact-checking usually done by reporters who vet campaign commercials and debate claims.

Clark and Myers founded the company out, as they said in their own words, in creative la-la land at the end of 2001. An effort to organize a letter writing campaign to troops in Afghanistan stalled after the anthrax scare, which inspired them to make web videos instead. They contacted Compaq, and the company sent a “studio” consisting of a computer with a webcam taped to the top.

“We thought, well, anybody has the capability to set up a studio like that,” Myers said.

So the founders set up a studio at Greensboro’s VFW post where spouses, siblings, parents and friends could record a personal video to send to loved ones serving overseas. In addition to families, Republican US Rep. Howard Coble and Democratic US Senator John Edwards dropped by with messages. Their visits inspired Myers and Clark to offer politicians one minute of internet video to say whatever they wanted.

“Everything has changed since then,” Clark said. “Five years is a long time for the internet.”

In the meantime, web videos played a part in the undoing of at least two political candidates. Howard Dean’s infamous scream during his concession of the 2004 Iowa Democratic caucuses effectively torpedoed his campaign for president. Then, two years later, Republican US Sen. George Allen from Virginia was caught using the ethnic slur “macaca,” which unleashed a flood of speculation about the incumbent’s racial attitudes. Allen ended up losing to Democratic challenger James Webb.

Myers said the Dean episode was an example of selective editing on the part of the mainstream media.

“The masters of the game in the media knew how to edit that clip in just such a way that he was done for,” Myers said.

He positions his website as a counterpoint, a format in which viewers could watch the whole clip in context.The company added Dan Romuald and Ronald Newton in 2004 and 2006 respectively. The newer partners are largely responsible for turning the founders’ vision into concrete product. The company, engineers and visionaries alike, sees in the website the potential for political revolution. In addition to the presidential race, they plan to spin off versions at all levels of government. The forum allows candidates with no money to communicate on the same footing as those who do.

However, the site will gladly take money from candidates willing to pay for its services.

“Policlicks will be the political advertising store on the internet,” Myers said. “Campaigns can come to Policlicks and purchase advertising.”

Myers said the site would force a change in the way the political game is played. He said he anticipates the biggest change will be on the local level, but that the ramifications for federal elections will not be slight.

“You’re probably going to see more of a rise in independent candidates,” Romuald said. “A lot of times now their messages are being held down. Their messages are going to be heard louder and louder as we keep going on.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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