YouTube's Grand Old Contest

Contest shows Google-owned video site's growing role in politics
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The GOP is teaming with YouTube to send one lucky amateur videographer to the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., this September. A red banner complete with the traditional Republican elephant is on the YouTube home page touting the contest (www.youtube.com/gopconvention).

But YouTube execs are quick to point out that they haven’t jumped to Team McCain. While YouTube is not beholden to equal-time rules, Steve Grove, the company’s head of news and politics, says the site has stressed parity between the campaigns.

Grove says he isn’t concerned about the perception of having a Republican presence on the home page without equal representation from the Democrats. “We don’t worry. We actually strategize about it,” he says.

The GOP initiated the contest, according to Grove, and there are active discussions with both parties for more initiatives tying into the nominating conventions.

“We’ve already set up a way to measure the levels of promotion we have on both sides of the aisle,” he adds. “We’re actually focused very tightly on it.”

For the contest, the GOP is asking users to submit videos of people who they feel embody Sen. John McCain’s ideals to “serve a cause greater than their own self-interest.” Finalists will be selected by the GOP, and users will vote for the winner. The submission deadline for the “American Neighbor Volunteer” contest is June 26.

“It’s not just about getting John McCain’s talking points out there,” Grove says, “but giving the electorate the opportunity to actually create content around John McCain’s candidacy.”

And obviously YouTube is no stranger to politics, as the “YouTube moment” has arguably changed political discourse in America. The gotcha videos of candidates or their surrogates “misspeaking,” “misremembering” and simply making a “mistake” are vast, varied and available in perpetuity.

It was former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) who started it all by calling an Indian-American high school student who was videotaping him at a campaign stop during the 2006 mid-term elections “macaca,” a racial slur. Allen went on to lose to Democrat Jim Webb, and suddenly YouTube was a political powerhouse.

“We consider that the birth of YouTube politics,” Grove says.


MORE THAN BLOOPERS

YouTube has partnered with the New Orleans Consortium for a presidential forum on Sept. 18. Grove is hopeful that presumptive nominees John McCain and Barack Obama will participate, but has yet to hear from either.

But if the viral nature of sensationalistic video snippets occasionally overshadows the debate on substantive issues, perhaps it’s all in the service of democracy, Grove says.

“I don’t think there’s any situation in which transparency is a bad thing,” he says. “We want our public figures to be transparent. I think holding them accountable is important. I think today’s generation understands transparency in a new way. Everyone has skeletons in their closet. I think people on the Web understand that we’re all human.”

Two years later, YouTube is much more than an aggregate for embarrassing moments. Seven of the 16 original candidates for president announced their candidacy on their respective YouTube channels. YouTube’s You Choose ’08 platform (www.youtube.com/youchoose) includes the candidate’s political channels as well as debate recaps and independent news content.

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