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YouTube to join CNN on debates

June 15, 2007|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Hoping to bolster its political coverage with a dose of new-media cred, CNN is partnering with YouTube to generate questions for two upcoming presidential debates, promising that the approach will shake up the stolid forums.

Beginning this week, YouTube members can upload video queries for the Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls onto CNN producers will sort through submissions and select 20 to 30 to pose to the candidates during a Democratic forum held at the Citadel in Charleston, S.C., on July 23, and a Republican gathering in Florida on Sept. 17.

"We're doing this because we're bringing a level of authenticity to politics," said Chad Hurley, chief executive and co-founder of YouTube.

For their part, CNN executives touted the format as "a giant leap forward" in election coverage.

"No debate has ever had the potential of being more inclusive," said Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S.

The live two-hour debates, moderated by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, will be driven almost entirely by the video questions. Each candidate will have a flat-panel screen at his or her lectern to watch the videos, which will be accompanied by a Google Earth image identifying the location of the person posing the question.

"I think we will get very creative, very inventive questions," said David Bohrman, senior vice president and the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for CNN. "I think the tone and flavor will be so different than any other debate that any of us have ever seen."

Presidential debates have long included questions from real voters, as did two forums hosted by CNN in New Hampshire this month. But the cable news channel said that using YouTube to generate submissions would help democratize the process.

"The fundamental difference with this debate is that in the past, the people asking the questions had to be present in the room, had to be invited in," Klein said. "We're inviting everyone in to take part in the debate."

As soon as the videos are posted, YouTube users will be able to vote and comment on one another's debate questions, as they do with other videos. But CNN producers said they would closely guard which videos they would use in the forums so as not to give the candidates a chance to practice their answers.

After the debates, the video questions and the candidate answers will remain on YouTube, where people can continue to post responses and reactions.

"The beautiful thing about YouTube's platform is it extends the debate beyond one single night," said Steve Grove, YouTube editor of news and politics.

Executives from both media companies declined to discuss the financial arrangements of their partnership or whether they are sharing ad revenue generated by the event.

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