CNN Sifting Through YouTube Submissions

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CNN and YouTube have garnered a lot of attention recently for their decision to team up < http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2007/06/cnnyoutube-debates.html> for the network’s upcoming presidential debates and allow users to submit questions for the candidates through the popular video-sharing site. The network has already received 1,700 questions, which can be viewed here, <http://www.youtube.com/contest/DemocraticDebate> and will continue to accept submissions through the weekend ahead of Monday night’s Democratic debate. And so far, they look a lot like the spectrum of views, tastes, and maturity levels that one has come to expect from the citizen media.

The guidelines advise contestants to be original, personal, and brief and to provide context.

"I look for a personal perspective,” CNN Political Director Sam Feist told U.S. News. “Journalists can ask, 'What can you do to solve the healthcare question?' But it's interesting when a voter shares their personal situation. Good video and audio quality help."

While there has been a fair share of the sort of silliness you might expect from YouTube videos--witness this request that some of the candidates have an ab-counting contest (video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlZT4r1A2cI&mode=user&search=) or John Dardenne's skeptical parody of a typical question (video: http://www.youtube.com/contests_layout?name=DemocraticDebate&v=GmIZky8Oesg&goto=1304 )--the majority of the entries posted online are serious.

YouTube's monitors remove any offensive material from the site. This monitoring process, and the fact that CNN will be picking the questions for the debate, have caused a bit of protest from the blogosphere, with some complaining that this kind of oversight trumps the democratic advantages of user-submitted questions. Many have contended that CNN should choose the questions based on which ones are viewed the most times. CNN has responded that it doesn't want candidates to know what to expect.

"I don't want frivolous questions," Feist said. "I want to have a serious debate focusing on serious issues. If I were to use the one that was viewed the most, I'd be showing a question about Arnold Schwarzenegger being a cyborg.  I'm sorry, that's not a question that should be used in a presidential debate."

Still, it’s a lot of material to sift through. Some entries are fairly easy to weed out--people opining in question form (video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldvNzBedAGc) or fans of one candidate pitching softballs (video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mag4HSY6Ok)--but the majority of the questioners appear sincere, like Scott Sutton, an American who grew up in Chad and wants the United States to address Darfur.(video: http://www.youtube.com/contests_layout?name=DemocraticDebate&v=LvR6kFrzAA4&goto=598 )  

James Kotecki, the 21-year-old Georgetown grad whose political commentary on YouTube videos has earned him a certain notoriety online, says he thinks the debate will have a more authentic voice.

"It's a fantastic way to get people interested,” he says. “I hope they try to represent the diversity of the questions out there." (His question can be viewed here.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-LoxyRp2Xo)

CNN and YouTube announced today that their Republican debate will take place September 17.

As a cross section of the submissions, here are a few interesting ones:

  • Meethali, a self-described "mother of two young, brown men" worries about racial profiling under the Patriot Act. (video: http://www.youtube.com/contests_layout?name=DemocraticDebate&v=C1cifXPJE_8&goto=142 )  
  • Mary and Jenof Brooklyn , N.Y. , ask, "If elected president, would you allow us to be married … to each other?" (video: http://www.youtube.com/contests_layout?name=DemocraticDebate&v=Y1jodTIw1ZY&goto=548 )
  • Nathan Roberts and his four children ask, "How are you going to save the environment?" (link:  http://www.youtube.com/contests_layout?name=DemocraticDebate&v=HrAFkJOVccQ&goto=149 )
  • --Marin Cogan