Helping Democracy, Oakland County Times Celebrates Over 650 Video Interviews
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 23, 2021)
Ferndale, MI – If you pay attention to local elections, you’re probably come across video interviews on Oakland County Times. We started doing short video interviews in 2015 when we saw that there wasn’t much information out there about local elections, and that written Q&As tended to be, well, boring and generic. We wanted to give voters a chance to hear from candidates in a more personal way, and to show residents that “the government” isn’t just some faceless machine. Those running for local office are people, friends and neighbors, with pride in their homes, families, jobs, ideas and passion for the community. One of the best parts of this series is making local government seem more human and accessible.
And now that we’ve posted our 650th interview, it seems like a good time to celebrate and reflect.
(Also to support this effort if you are so inclined.)
The squeaky-voiced lady asking questions in the videos is me, Crystal Proxmire. I’ve been running this website since it started in 2009 as The Ferndale 115, and we’ve since been growing across the county. We’re up to 668 interviews at the time of publishing this article, with a stack of them still in the folder to be edited. They’ll go up right until Election Day so we can do as many as possible.
Our milestone 650th interview was with Lathrup Village Councilperson Bruce Kantor.
William “Buffalo” White was our first as he ran for Ferndale City Council in 2015.
You can find this year’s videos here, with much thanks to the Pontiac Community Foundation for sponsoring the series!
Through these 650+ videos, Oakland County Times has informed readers about races from library, parks, and school boards, up to Congressional Races and state-level competitions. In 2018, candidates for Governor took part, including Brian Calley, Patrick Colbeck, Jim Hines, John Tatar, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Up until last year, the videos had been done in person, with candidates from all over trekking mainly to the Berkley Public Library or Ferndale City Hall to film. Thankfully Zoom has given us a great tool for more interviews, and a more engaging setup than in years past.
Through the course of this series we’ve had some candidates who brought creativity to their interviews, including Holly Township Parks Board candidate Steven LaPlante who insisted upon a wardrobe change and a cowbell, and 2016 State Rep. candidate Ryan Manier who pulled out his wallet to showcase dollar bills while discussing his position that taxation is theft.
During the course of this series I’ve seen two women walk into background unintentionally with just bras on, and one man who had to get up to turn off a light and was only wearing boxer shorts. But don’t worry candidates, I won’t say who. Plus there was one – only one – candidate who got to see my bottoms – fuzzy blue pajama pants with yellow duckies.
Some others ended up being fun as well. In 2019 Ferndale City Council candidate Laura Mikulski’s interview was interrupted by a tree frog making an appearance in front of City Hall. And another candidate, who I promised not to reveal, had to redo their video because during filming they had their hands in their lap and their thumbs kept popping up over the edge of a table in a way that looked hilariously inappropriate. That was when I started paying extra attention to all the details of the screen, not just the lighting and the faces.
Our most popular video ever was that of Clarance Dass when running for 6th Circuit Court Judge in 2020, with 7,968 views at the time of this article. In general, election videos aren’t nearly as popular as cute animal videos or garbage men crushing a full size speedboat into their truck, but they do serve an important purpose. Even in videos with only double-digit views, we know there are voters making the time to make more informed decisions – so every video is a success.
There have even been occasions where elections are won or lost by just a matter of votes. In 2019 Madison Heights Councilperson Kymmburleigh Clark won her first ever race by just three votes, defeating an incumbent candidate who did not opt to film an interview. Also in 2019, Clawson got fresh faces on council, with incumbent Howie Airriess loosing his seats by just seven votes. The victors – Kathy Philips and Louis J. Samson had done videos.
“I think the interview helped a lot,” Clark said. “I relied 100% on internet campaigning to win my race. I did this because I knew I could reach more people faster with this method. With my campaign I engaged 10,000+ people a month using informational posts like these candidate interviews to get the word about myself and my goals out to my neighbors. I could have never accomplished this if I stuck to traditional campaigning of door to door canvassing and plastering the town with wasteful print materials. I truly believe this method helped me to get to know more of my neighbors than physically possible with traditional campaign methods, and it is still working for me today.”
Every candidate running in Oakland County or those on Oakland County ballots is invited to do an interview.
Kantor, who was lucky number 650, said of his experience “Crystal makes the process extremely easy and has a way of making the interview feel more like you are chatting with a good friend rather than a member of the media.
“This results in a natural conversation that elicits the important information that voters need to truly get to know the candidates and their platforms. From a candidate perspective, these videos are an easy way of getting high-quality videos that can be used in a multitude of ways during a campaign– on a campaign website, posted to social media, etc. Through these videos, Crystal and the Oakland County Times promote voter education, which is essential to a thriving democracy.”
County Executive Dave Coulter is no stranger to the series, having filmed in both his candidacy for Mayor of Ferndale, and more recently for County Executive. “The candidate interview series in OC Times is a wonderful example of the continued need for good local journalism. Giving candidates an opportunity for more than soundbites is invaluable to the campaigns, and to the voters trying to make decisions with limited information. With the focus now on attacks on our democracy, these interview are the perfect antidote.”
With each video taking about an hour – or more if they are complicated – to film and edit, plus time for scheduling and promoting the series, this project has been a labor of love. But it’s also something that we can do to help make communities stronger. Our goal is to do journalism that informs, inspires, and unites readers and the candidate interview series certainly does that. Thank you to the hundreds of candidates who have been brave enough to put themselves out there, and who trusted us to do this nonpartisan interview series right. And of course to everyone who watches the videos and shares them to spread the word.
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