March 17th, 2010
03:30 PM ET
13 years ago

Obama's YouTube interview: Lessons learned

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="YouTube solicited questions from citizens and then asked the top rated ones to President Obama."]Austin, Texas (CNN) – Get ready for more YouTube interviews with political newsmakers like the one President Obama did last month.

"This is just the beginning," said Steve Grove, the head of news and politics at YouTube, speaking over the weekend at the technology mega-conference South by Southwest on a panel titled "Interviewing the President: How YouTube Can Do It Better."

Grove, joined on the panel by Olivia Ma, YouTube's news manager, spoke publicly for the first time about the February 1 event, in which Grove asked Obama 14 questions in 30 minutes. All of the questions had been submitted over the course of five days over YouTube and voted on by the site's users.

According to Grove, Obama enjoyed the format and is open to doing another YouTube interview. "He's conformable in that environment," Grove said.

Grove did not say whether YouTube planned another Obama interview. But Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper did one just this week, as did Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, who spoke exclusively about his new broadband plan.

At the same time, Grove said he realizes that "politicians want to do these when they are popular. Democracy is cool when you're popular."

The YouTube format has other downsides, Grove acknowledged. For one thing, journalists - politicians' traditional interview inquisitors - "are more informed about the issues." He said the White House press corps is better at holding the president's feet to the fire. "Knowledge is the biggest difference between citizens and journalists."

In addition, some of the questions also felt like softballs, Grove acknowledged. And the YouTube format also did not allow for follow-up questions or "live accountability," he said. Grove only asked the questions that users had submitted, and there was no back-and-forth conversation.

On the other hand, the interview drew its strength from its "community" and "engagement" aspects, said Ma, Grove's YouTube colleague.

The interview forged a powerful personal connection between Obama and YouTube's citizen questioners, and the people who submitted questions felt ownership over their government.

"You have a responsibility to engage with and talk with the leaders you elected," Ma said. "We felt people from around the country really had a stake. It was really their interview."

Ma and Grove also noted another plus of the YouTube format: "Google Moderator," the platform YouTube used for people to submit video or text questions and vote, allowed all users to have a say in what was asked even if they did not ask a question themselves.

While Grove is bullish on the use of social media to connect citizens and politicians, the new media is at the stage of "cave man sitting around the fire," he said. The craft of journalism is here to stay, he said. Algorithms can identify what is popular, "but there is this thing called editorial context. This has to be done by human beings."

Filed under: President Obama • YouTube
soundoff (4 Responses)

    The republicans bash President Obama all the time. President Obama is the first political figure to mobilize social networking sites and youtube into the political arena. But those republicans jumped on the bandwagon now they see they can reach out to voters this way.


    March 17, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  2. Neaderthal Republicans

    In the age of Youtube, it will become much easier to demonstrate when a politician has lied.

    Then all we need to do is punish the liars.

    The game has changed forever.

    March 17, 2010 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  3. Monkey wrench

    Sniffit March 17th, 2010 1:48 pm ET

    Remember people, this bill would have been signed almost a year ago had the GOP not been delaying it.
    Now I know you're a lawyer trying to spin that one on us, I believe it has been the Dumbocrats delaying it, delaying it and delaying it. They have repeatedly delayed it because they know it STINKS, esquire.... Nice try though libtard.

    March 17, 2010 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  4. Ann

    Why do you force your fellow Democrats to vote yes or no on the Health Bill? Isn't it smarter to vote just Present?

    March 17, 2010 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |