Redefining political coverage

By John Lendman

When Kate Soglin arrived at the California Democratic Party Convention in San Diego on April 29, 2007, she stood out like a sore thumb.

She waited nervously, teetering in her high heels and leopard-print dress, armed with her press pass and a microphone at the news conference. She moved throughout the crowd, pleading for Sen. John Edwards’ attention until he pointed to her among the other reporters, prompting her to ask a question.

The room filled with laughter as she clutched her microphone tightly, hesitant as to what to ask. She was not a reporter and didn’t fully understand politics in general, she said. But that was never a problem before.

“All these [reporters] were staring at me, and some people where actually taking photos of me,” she said. “I honestly didn’t know who [Edwards] was. I heard him speak and he was talking about jobs for everybody so we thought, ‘Let’s go and find out why.'”

“Hi, I’m Citizen Kate from Citizen Kate TV, I’m new to this whole process,” she told Edwards, while her cameraman filmed. “But I was wondering if you know what it takes to be a great leader?”

As Edwards smiled, the hall of conservatively dressed, seasoned reporters chuckled, only to be silenced by the former Democratic presidential candidate.

“You guys lay off a little bit, OK?” Edwards said to the crowd. Then he answered her question relaxed and honestly.

“That’s when we knew we were on to something,” Soglin said.

Since arriving on the campaign trail in February 2007, when Sen. Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president in Springfield, Ill., Soglin, a 30-year-old Chicagoan, has been reporting as one of the nation’s first “citizen journalists” covering the 2008 Presidential election. Like most citizen reporters, she had no formal journalism training or experience working for any particular media group, but her online video blog, CitizenKate.tv, has thrived.

Critics of her site have equated her reporting style as a cross between Elle Woods from Legally Blonde and Jon Stewart from “The Daily Show.” The Chicago Tribune and YouTube video collective, PrezVid.com, identified Citizen Kate as the first “Obama stalker” in February of 2007, searching for her chance to meet the Illinois senator.

“Citizen Kate is kind of a citizen journalist project that’s a parody of [reporters] out on the road and out at the conventions,” said Steve Rhodes, editor and creator of BeachwoodReporter.com.

Rhodes, who features CitizenKate.tv on the political section of his Chicago-centric, media critique blog, said he’s a fan of Soglin’s work because unlike most political reporters or citizen journalists, she has no clear bias and attends conventions and interviews candidates from campaigns that receive little media attention, such as Independent Party nominee Ralph Nader, Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney and Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr, to name a few.

What makes the premise of the online broadcast unique is the disarming way Soglin asks questions as well, said Carey Lundin, executive producer and creator of CitizenKate.tv. She asks questions such as, “Do you think this hat [covered in campaign buttons] goes with these shoes?,” “Do you think we can change the world with peace and hugs?” and “You seem to always be right, have you ever been wrong?”

Lundin, who was friends with Soglin long before they began filming, said the site gets as many as 300,000 visitors a month-a steep increase from the less than 100 or so monthly viewers tuning in when the site launched.

“A lot of times the story evolves and changes; the magic happens when Kate is there and in the moment,” Lundin said. “What we end up doing is sort of a hybrid of planning, access and Kate in the moment-and then real life takes over.”

The idea of the show is not so much the coverage of events but accounts of the experiences following a young person on the campaign trail seeking a candidate who may earn her vote, Lundin said.

“In the beginning we had nothing. We didn’t have the website up, we were just like, ‘Let’s just try it out and see what happens and where it goes from there,'” Soglin said. “We were kind of learning as we went, and I think the format really found itself.”

Soglin said she always asks candidates and elected officials, “What does it take to be a great leader?”

“I try to get them to laugh and smile [while] trying to connect with them at a more personal level,” she said. “If I can’t understand what’s going on, I figure nobody can.”

After the Presidential election, Soglin and CitizenKate.tv plans to keep reporting on issues that affect the general public while shedding light on political issues.

“It’s been really interesting and eye-opening,” Soglin said. “I think it’s important for all citizens to sort of experience the political process.”

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