Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Blogger Success Story: Rogue Interview with James Kotecki, Part II

This article is a continuation of an impromptu interview with video blogger James Kotecki that took place at the 2008 Politics Online Conference in Washington, D.C.

Part I of the interview can be found here. For more background about James Kotecki, check out his cheeky bathtub review

SCPB: So, you don’t think at some point though, the old media is going to say, "Look, this is who we are, but bloggers, this is who you are and never the twain shall meet."

JK: Absolutely not, I mean, there’s an example at where I work right now. We have people on staff. My title is video blogger although Politico is more of a mainstream organization. A lot of people came there from The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, other places like that. We have blogs that are written by reporters. There are sites like The Huffington Post which is known as a blog, it has its slant certainly, but on a number of issues it is still very credible and its analysis is at least – if you don’t agree with it – at least worth reading to see what that side of the aisle has to say.

SCPB: What makes somebody trust a site like, let’s say, The Huffington Post more so than they would trust a site like The Spewker that doesn't have any backing? I’m just writing it because this is what I think and feel. What is it that gives credibility to somebody who wants to get out there, start blogging, and find an audience?

JK: The credibility I got early on, and all I can really do is speak from my own experience, but, um, Emily actually asked me this early on, "Why should anyone believe in the analysis that you’re providing?" And I thought, well, I don’t know (laughter)...

SCPB: don't know (laughter)...

JK: ... at first I didn’t know, but then I thought about it for a second and I realized if I continued to put out this analysis and I continued to do it consistently and build up a persona, and if I have a persona brand, if you will, of authenticity combined with humor, combined with legitimate information ...

Emily: It builds up trust.

JK: Yes, it builds up trust in people. The authenticity and the light-heartedness are probably part of that because you’re not taking yourself too seriously, too pompously. With the analysis I was providing, if people could think about it and it made sense to them, that's how I found my audience.

SCPB: I was one of your early followers, I just want you to know that.

JK: I appreciate that, I appreciate that very much.

SCPB: I saw you evolve on YouTube and it was quite exciting.

JK: Thank you. I think that’s how you build up trust, just keep putting it out there and if it’s consistent it should reach people. I mean, if nobody had believed anything I was saying about politicians who use YouTube, yeah, it wouldn’t have worked. But at a certain point, there’s a tipping point between building up enough people who trust what you say, then people will follow you and take credence in what you say. Especially if you get enough media mentions, then you are an expert. It doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters, basically. If you get enough media mentions, you’re an expert.

Eventually, The Economist said I was probably one of the most foremost experts on YouTube presidential candidates.

SCPB: That’s unbelievable.

JK: That was. I think that was kind of Economist snark, in a sense, because if you think about what they’re saying, it’s such a very narrowly defined expertise, it’s almost laughable.

SCPB: But it was in a year or less that this happened?

JK: Yes, that happened probably about five months after I started.

SCPB: Do you ever think that something like that could happen in the future again or is it just because you got in so early?

JK: Part of it was timing. And part of it, a big part of it was I picked the right topic, unbeknownst to me.

I thought it would be a good niche topic. I didn’t know how good of a niche it would be. It was the perfect confluence of the media really cared about it, very few people were talking about it or could talk about it credibly, and I was able to talk about it in a way that turned out to be compelling to people. In a sense, I was lucky to have picked that right topic.

SCPB: And I think you were lucky to have had Emily.

JK: Oh, absolutely. I had media consulting in Emily, but what I would say to people who were interested in kind of replicating some of that for their own subjects is keep playing. Definitely, micro-target on a niche, but don’t necessarily be married to the first one that you choose. I just did politics, maybe you have to go narrower. Maybe you have to move over to a niche that’s related to but isn’t the same as the small niche you've already done. Maybe you have to broaden it a little bit.

I think, it’s all about playing around with it. What’s so great about the Internet, YouTube, blogs, and everything else is it only costs your time and effort. It does not cost hardly any money to do. You can afford to play around with different topics and see what catches on. Then, once you find a thing that catches on, produce more of it. You’re not going to be able to know necessarily ahead of time what that is, although you can try to figure it out.

SCPB: But once that catches fire, just go with it, so to speak

JK: Once it goes, once you realize this could be something interesting, yes. I had kind of a gut feeling that, okay, YouTube and politics could be something really interesting. My topic was specifically about how presidential candidates are using YouTube officially in their campaigns. A topic that was very very niche, only a few other people even today have talked about it thoroughly, but especially at the time there were only other two places I knew of that were really talking about it at all.

I thought maybe the media would be interested in something like this because I think it's interesting. I didn’t know how soon it would happen, how quickly it would happen. But I realized early on that the topic would be beneficial to discuss if the media got involved in it too. Luckily, they did.

Part of the reason I was aware of the power of the mainstream media was because months before, a few months before I started video blogging, I did about thirty interviews in a week about scandal on Capitol Hill because I’m a former House page. A lot of news organizations contacted me in a very short period of time. It was a fascinating study into the power of the media to amplify a message. I was aware of that from the very beginning, although like I said, I would have been willing to play around with more topics had that one not stuck.

SCPB: You seem a little bit self-effacing, somebody who doesn’t think too much of themselves or maybe tries not to be too blown up, but I’m going to ask you this question anyway. Do you think you were responsible in some respects for the CNN/YouTube Debates?

JK: No. I think that was probably something CNN was thinking of, that YouTube was probably thinking about before I came into the picture. I think it would have happened without me too.

At the same time, when I first joined YouTube, there was no news and politics section. It was actually called "News and Blogs" which they broke into two sections, "People and Blogs" and then "News and Politics." I think they were already thinking about building out "News and Politics" for the election. I don’t know if they realized how big it would be and I don’t know when they had the idea for the YouTube Debates, but I was very gratified to be a small part of a chorus of people calling for more interaction between politicians and candidates.

Part of the reason I knew I was hitting the right notes in my analysis of YouTube and politics is because few other people were talking about it. As more people started to talk about it, they began to discuss new ideas.

I think everybody at the same time was coming up with a similar sense of an idea for how [the Internet and political elections] could really work and revolutionize how things were going. I’m just happy to be one of the people that was able to articulate that at the right time and at the right style to catch the fire.

SCPB: How old are you?

JK: Twenty-two.

SCPB: I have to say, your parents should be very proud of you.

JK: Thank you very much. I love my parents very much.

SCPB: And what part of the country are you from?

JK: Well, [Emily and I] are both from Raleigh, North Carolina originally. I moved there when I was four. She moved there when she was like, eleven. We went to high school together in Raleigh. And then we moved to D.C. She went to American University and I went to Georgetown.

SCPB: Well, thank you so much for this interview and this time. It’s so appreciated. I’m sure your fans out there are going to appreciate it too.

Follow James Kotecki at Politico and PoliticoPlaybook