You Choose - Google's Government Access Channel

You Choose - Google's Government Access Channel

Google's Government Access Channel

  • Posted on: 19 April 2007
  • By: jmc

When I opened up YouTube this morning, I was met by a big smiling John Edwards in a banner promoting the "You Choose" section of the website. YouTube has decided, after success of YouTube's non-partisan "You Choose '08" voter education initiative, to ramp up its involvement in national politics with slick full page "spotlights" on candidates. These spotlights will highlight one candidate per week starting with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney last week.

For those involved in community television, these spotlights sound like the on-line version of the candidate forums that dozens, if not hundreds of stations around the United States hold every year. These forums, often highlighting such local races as city councillor or school board, are usually one of the few chances a candidate gets to speak unfiltered on television. The usual media coverage of politics is usually very limited to the soundbites of the six o'clock news. Soundbites are not conducive to creating an informed civic dialogue.

Each week in the "spotlight," candidates will produce a video for YouTube and encourage the public to respond. The YouTube community has one week to respond to the candidate with questions and concerns. The candidate will then engage these videos and address the community's concerns via video responses, giving the lucky ones highly visible access to presidential candidates.

As YouTube touts its civic mindedness, I am still the ever skeptical citizen. One article writes how the on-line features will "allow presidential candidates to mobilize voters through the power of on-line video, while giving voters highly visible access to candidates." The article concludes, "[b]etween now and the presidential election, YouTube will continue to serve as an engine for democracy by encouraging direct interaction between presidential candidates and voters." This sounds eerily like press release language you might read issued by Google's marketing department. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe live town hall meetings, impassioned speeches and well-reasoned rhetoric are the best tools for organizing a constituency - not necessarily 425 pixel wide by 350 pixel tall, poorly encoded video. Finally, where is the substance? I may be missing something, but I can't find a single mention of where Mr. Edwards stands on important issues. Perhaps the content is buried in his featured videos. A text based companion would be nice.

On the other hand, I applaud YouTube's effort to inform voters during this crucial run-up to a presidential primary that for the first time in many years does not have an already decided winner in both Republic and Democratic camps.

Government in particular, but Public and Education Acccess channels as well, should take note of this commercial behemoth's attempt at promoting the public interest. Perhaps this year, access television channels around the country can follow YouTube's example by starting their own "Spotlight" on local candidate races. There are plenty free, on-line tools to get your local candidates' message to the community that inform and build community all at the same time. If you have an example of on-line, candidate videos, send them on; I am interested to see what sort local "You Choose" sites are out there.

I look forward to see the You Choose site develop over the course of the next year. Perhaps in the meantime, someone can convince them to add some relevant content to the spotlight - where the candidate stands on issues, for instance.