Thursday, June 14, 2007

"DNC/YouTube Debates: Putting Democracy in Democratic?" (with video)

No more panelists, no more local TV anchors and no more Wolf Blitzer asking the questions. The July 23rd DNC debate in Charleston, SC, and the GOP WH '08 debate September 17th in Florida, is between you, YouTube and the candidates. CNN personality Anderson Cooper will host the new kind of debate, which will allow users to submit questions starting today to Democratic Presidential candidates over the video-sharing Web site.
CNN will be in charge of picking which YouTube video questions will be asked of the candidates.

"This is the most democratic of all structures," said CNN VP and DC Bureau Chief David Bohrman on the debate structure. "Everyone in the country has the possibility of asking a question of someone who might be the next president."

Debate organizers said they hope to get about 20 to 30 questions into the debate, which will consist almost entirely of YouTube user-generated questions. However CNN and Google/YouTube will not let users view their selection process for the debates, said organizers on a conference call with reporters today. That's because organizers said they don't want candidates to know which questions will be before the debate.

"It's not going to be the 100 most viewed clips," added Bohrman. "That would be far too simplistic. ... the real questions will be buried in the thousands of questions that will be submitted."

Some other basic tidbits from the call:
-They guessed they'll get about 20 to 30 questions asked at the debate, but CNN will have about 50 to 100 questions ready to go.
-Execs say they're close to picking a site for Republican CNN/YouTube/Google debate September 17 in Florida. Excepting any technological problems in the DNC debate, organizers said they'll follow the same user-generated format.
-Organizers said about 98% of the debate will be reserved for YouTube-generated questions, but they'll leave a little bit of wiggle room if, as they said, "the blogs erupt with a question," or if an issue explodes online during the forum.

So here's the other $64,000 question of the evening: Will viewers do a better job than journos at asking the candidates questions? Candidate and bloggers alike often complain about format and questions poised by the networks. Take for example Chris Dodd's Talk Clock graphic showing how many minutes each candidate had to talk in NH. And who could forget Chris Matthews wasting precious airtime asking the Republicans whether another Clinton in the White House would be good for the country?

But now that users are in charge, how will the questions differ? Or because CNN still has complete editorial control over which questions are asked, will the question differ at all? At least the YouTube videos will include all the regular features, such as how many views each video has received and a five-star rating system. Will YouTube users revolt if CNN doesn't ask what they might think are appropriate questions?

What's more, CNN and Google/YouTube will release the footage from the evening online so users will be able to mash and create their own videos from the debate. Expect users and campaign operatives alike to create, manipulate and interpret the footage for wide distribution across the Internet.

"The length of the debate is much longer than the night of the event," said YouTube News and Politics editor Steve Grove [SHIRA TOEPLITZ].

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