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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Activists Use Youth And YouTube To Rile Up Their Base

Christopher B. Allen

Montana politicians and activists are starting to reach out to the public in new ways, trying to appeal to a younger audience.

In a small apartment, a few blocks from the University of Montana campus, two students prepare to record a video for their YouTube channel. It’s about the latest from the Montana legislature, not exactly a mouse-click magnet for younger viewers. But co-host Lucy Peraino thinks their "Daily Show" style can get their attention.

"People don’t want to sit and listen to a four minute thing of, ‘and they covered this bill and they covered that bill.’ They want to be able to have a laugh for a minute. I think it’s really important that it’s entertainment and not just news," Peraino said.

Peraino calls her show 2Legit.

You can watch the most recent episode below:

2Legit, a product of the advocacy group Forward Montana, started production in late January. Over 8 weeks, they’ve covered and advocated for issues like Medicaid expansion, eliminating so-called dark money politics, and college tuition freezes.

And if you’re skeptical about the potential of YouTube videos in politics consider that Missoula resident Hank Green went from posting casual conversations on YouTube with his brother in 2007, to a conversation with President Obama in 2015 that got millions of views.

But getting clicks, especially about the 90-day marathon of bill proposals, committee hearings, and political squabbles that is the Montana legislature, is quite a challenge.

That’s why Peraino, and the four other members of the production crew write a mix of fact, opinion and attitude, along with infographics, that give viewers a glimpse into what’s going on under the dome in Helena. But you better be prepared for some salty language.

"In this week’s hot topic, we’re going to be covering who the fuck legislators are, what the fuck a legislature does, and how the fuck that shit works."

Credit Christopher B. Allen
Preparing a recent episode.

As the show has progressed, they’ve cut down on the cussing. They only have an hour or so every week before class to review the script, prepare the props and shoot the video from their apartment.

Debi Lombardi co-hosts 2Legit.

"We have Jar-Jar Binks, we have the sorting hat, our lovely tapestry with the two unicorns impaling each other. We can slide in Prince in the back, and that can’t happen at the office."

Co-host Peraino says the 2Legit team uses the Daily-Show inspiration to specifically target younger viewers with what she calls "entertainment news."

Videos like these aren’t just student projects either. They’re on the minds of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Helena, too.

"It’s really important to engage young people, regardless of which political party you work for."

That’s Eric Sell, Communications Director for the Republican Montana Senate Majority. He says satirical news shows popularized by John Stewart and Stephen Colbert do provide solid information to voters.

"They just do it in a way that’s more appealing to younger people. And it kind of pokes fun at some of the stuff that happens in politics that a lot of people shake their heads at. So I think that that is certainly something that’s probably going to be more widely utilized in the future."

But most Montana Republicans haven’t embraced that future yet. Some legislators log-on to Facebook and Twitter to communicate with constituents and generate buzz about their proposals. But Sell says most GOP lawmakers are sticking with traditional media. Recent research shows 71% of Americans still look to local TV for most of their news and roughly 50% to newspapers.

"I think...utilizing opinion pages in the local newspaper, sending out columns every week, alot of legislators like to do that."

Montana Democrats have similar communication habits, but they’ve started stepping up their online visual presence as a group, releasing their own version of alegislative review show on YouTube, though without all the swearing and pictures of Prince. But it’s clearly a tentative first step.

At least one Republican, Representative Daniel Zolnikov, says he plans to start producing his own self-made videos to promote his policies on Facebook. But there’s no group effort from Republicans or allied groups yet. And one political expert says that’s probably because they don’t really need to.

“They kind of did this already. It’s called Talk Radio.”

Lee Banville is an associate professor of Journalism at The University of Montana.
Credit Courtesy UM School of Journalism
Professor Lee Banville, UM School of Journalism

This is Lee Banville. He’s a political author, University of Montana associate professor of journalism and former editor-in-chief of PBS NewsHour Online. Banville says that when talk radio came into its own in the early 1980s, Republicans were the minority struggling to pass bills in Congress and prove their political viability.

"If you look at the humor, you look at the sort of provocative nature of it. You look at the sort of in-your-face approach. Talk radio is this for Republicans, right? I mean there are talk radio hosts in Montana that appeal to conservatives, and there are obviously national networks. I mean liberals have utterly failed in the talk radio sphere."

Banville says after a dismal showing in last November’s elections, the pressure’s on liberals to find ways to engage voters in interesting ways. As long as Republicans hold the majority in the Legislature, they can continue to demonstrate their effectiveness by passing or blocking bills. Democrats have to rely more on marketing to appeal to their voters.

"I think what we’re seeing is the Democrats kind of using the technology that suites their audience, which tends to be younger, tends to be more "Daily Show" friendly, to try and get them fired-up to be politically active. Because, if anything, they’ve learned from the 2014 election that if they don’t fire up their supporters they have a really ugly time winning elections in Montana."

Legislative coverage from both the Forward Montana advocacy group 2Legit and the Montana Democrats hasn’t exactly been a huge success. Their most popular video has logged just under 4,000 views. But with 63% of U.S. adults saying they watched videos online in 2014, self-produced content could play a big role in how Montana political organizations catch the eyes and ears of voters in the future.

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