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The CNN/YouTube Debate: Are The Videos "Serious" Enough For The GOP?

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With almost 5000 entries for the upcoming CNN/YouTube Republican debate, there's no question that CNN is lauding it as a success already. They've received more than double the number of entries compared to the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate in July. At the same time, CNN's Washington Bureau Chief and executive producer of the debate, David Bohrman says there is less diversity with regards to sex and and race. How will a bigger field of less diverse questions affect the debate? And why the lack of diversity?

The easy answer points in the direction of the Republican party itself. Generally people who attend and ask questions at a Republican debate or town hall meeting would themselves be Republican. It's possible that this lack of diversity is just an extension of people who would be asking questions in person. But this is new media, where everyone has a fair platform.

The rise in the number of questions can speak to the success of the format. It's a stretch to call it proven with only one CNN/YouTube debate. Many entrants have new accounts with YouTube, and only one or two videos posted. Some only feature their debate questions. It's a great feat to have inspired someone to sign up for YouTube with the sole purpose of creating a question for the debates. It also says a lot for an event when there people who are firmly established on YouTube sending in questions as well. There isn't as much of that as we saw with the previous debate, but plenty of already 'internet-famous' video bloggers have questions. Whether those questions end up on the air remains to be seen. CNN expects this to be bigger than the previous CNN/YouTube debate. They're employing full network coverage across the board. Headline News will feature immediate focus group-like reactions from a group of citizens in Tampa, right on the screen.At Dawson County High School in Dawsonville, Georgia, World Affairs class teacher Wes Greer has used the CNN/YouTube debates as a learning tool, and took the opportunity to get students actively involved in the second debate, submitting questions as a class and encouraging them to make their own videos. (see their full YouTube page here). In that respect, the first debate was a success. It has led more people, including many groups of students, to post questions. This creates a more interactive learning environment, something almost unheard of with a traditional debate. A contributor to both debates said his first experience was so much fun that be genuinely looked forward to the GOP debate to participate again. Another, Calvin of CM Creative, was prompted to participate in the Republican debate because he felt he had a more creative, endearing way of asking his question.Another notable difference is the lack of creative entries. The ever-popular Billiam The Snowman from the last debate has another entry (courtesy of brother-creators Nathan and Greg Hamel of Minneapolis) and CNN favourites Travis and Jonathan (aka Tennessee comedy duo Travis Harmon and Jonathan Shockley) are back as lovable country duo Jackie & Dunlap, but otherwise there's a distinct lack of creative, musical and/or animated entries. The Republicans might just be too "serious" for this sort of thing and CNN knows it. Many of them didn't want to take part in the debate to begin with (it was originally supposed to be in September but was rescheduled so more of the candidates could take part). Bohrman says he wants this to be a serious debate, "a Republican debate." (The Snowman-targeted Mitt Romney should be so lucky.) But perhaps the people who have submitted questions agree.YouTube multi-submitter Tom Joyce, aka "CNNFan" told me he submitted computer-generated animated questions because he hopes to promote increased voting in the upcoming election, "the way animated TV commercials promote product sales." He feels the lack of more creative ads is due to the well-reported need for Republican candidates to catch up with internet technology. Calvin of CM Creative cites the time it takes to make a creative question, specifically an animated one. He also believes that anyone asking a question is truly creative, in that they are creating a voice for themselves.And then there's Ron Paul, the rogue candidate who raised a million dollars in a day thanks to an unofficial online campaign. His supporters are out in droves with many labeling their videos specifically for Paul (like, say, the "CNN/YouTube Debate Ron Paul Ad Competition". Most of these are softball questions designed to make Ron Paul look good from people who have already made up their minds ("Just how long will it take you as President to cease all known illegal activities in which the Executive Branch of the federal government is engaged, including the undeclared war, collection of income tax, the paper money system, the Patriot Act, and most federal bureaus?"). One intrepid supporter even asks the other candidates if they'll support Ron Paul if he wins the party nomination. (And we'd love to see them answer that one!) But he isn't the only one with the troops rallied; questions from people with user names like "Obamafor08" can hardly be considered impartial. Undoubtedly, these will be skipped over in favor of more typically Republican questions.With 5000 questions and only 40 being picked to air during the debate, are we getting a fair representation of what people really want to ask? A quick scroll of YouTube's feature site for the upcoming debate shows mostly males sitting in front of their computers with questions about the national debt, social security, and what the role of government should be in the years to come. Bohrman said so-called "lobbying questions" about gay marriage and abortion won't be considered, despite the bickering between candidates about their nuanced and past positions on those issues. What does that leave?

It will be interesting to see if this debate that marries classic questions with more new media, and whether that will stay true to CNN's vision of a "serious" Republican debate. Of course, it's much easier to craft that kind of debate when you have 5000 nearly identical questions at your hands.

The Caucus: Sneak Peek at CNN/YouTube Debate Videos [NYT] Funny, poignant questions pouring in for GOP debate [CNN] CNN, YouTube More than Double Video Questions for Presidential Debate [B&C] The CNN/YouTube Republican Debate [YouTube]