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YouTube users to feed CNN presidential debate questions

Published June 15, 2007


Is it a thinly veiled gimmick to make politics look cool, or a legitimate way to expand access?

That's one of the questions officials from CNN and YouTube faced Thursday, after an announcement of their partnership to present two presidential candidate debates featuring questions culled from the renowned video-sharing Web site.

In an event labeled "the first ever voter-generated presidential debates," host Anderson Cooper will present participants with 30-second video clips featuring questions filmed and uploaded to YouTube by users from across the country.

Florida will play a special role, with plans announced for a Sept. 17 debate among Republicans in the Sunshine State at a location still to be determined.

The Democrats go first, with a two-hour event scheduled July 23 at the Citadel in Charleston, S.C.

"During our last election, we saw voters turning to YouTube because it offered people an opportunity to share their viewpoints," said Chad Hurley, co-founder of the Web site, in a conference call with reporters Thursday. "We are bringing a level of authenticity to politics ... bringing transparency and access to voters in a new way."

Some journalists wondered how inclusive the debates might be if questioners must be Web-savvy enough to record themselves and upload the video to YouTube. One 2006 poll indicated that just 1 percent of those who got political information online created original audio or video content.

Still, with so many presidential debates scheduled this year, each event becomes more focused on reaching specific voters -- making a CNN/YouTube partnership a possible magnet for young, tough-to-engage citizens.

"Young people in particular like YouTube, and that is the group least likely to watch a TV debate," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times.

"Debates are often seen by people as boring, stuffy occasions, when they would prefer to watch some entertainment," wrote Sabato. "CNN, one supposes, is trying to combine the two. It's infotainment, but there's nothing wrong with drawing in casual viewers with a harmless gimmick."

YouTube is accepting submissions at Twenty to 30 questions will be chosen.

Users are cautioned to avoid profanity, ask direct questions, be creative and personal with their presentations and not to exceed 30 seconds in length.

One sample question about predatory lending features a man standing in front of a bank, noting that such institutions have been replaced by check-cashing centers in most low-income neighborhoods.

"I think there's another world of questions out there that I'd like to see," said David Bohrman, Washington, D.C., bureau chief for CNN.

"Real people doing real things ... expressing a question in the way they feel comfortable. I think everybody realizes it's a bit of an unknown, but it's something we feel is important to try."

Eric Deggans can be reached at or (727) 893-8521.

[Last modified June 15, 2007, 02:08:31]

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