YouTube Teams Up with Congress to Show Laymakers at Work


Let’s see who we can catch with their hands in the cookie jar

via NY Times

SAN FRANCISCO — YouTube is aiming to raise its profile in American politics by helping deliver a glimpse of life on Capitol Hill to its large online audience.

On Monday, YouTube, in collaboration with Congress, will unveil two new Web pages, one for the House and one for the Senate, where every lawmaker will be able to create a video channel on the site. The pages will include a map of the United States that will allow users to easily navigate to the channel of their elected officials.

Already several members of Congress have channels on YouTube. But by creating a central hub for all senators and representatives, YouTube is hoping to encourage more members to create their own channels, not only as a place to promote their agendas but also as a forum for interacting with citizens.

“People out there don’t really know what senators and congressmen do on a daily basis,” said Steve Grove, head of news and politics at YouTube. “This will give them a sense of what they are doing.”

During the election season, political campaigns made heavy use of YouTube and other online tools, including social networks like MySpace and Facebook, as well as blogs and “microblogging” services like Twitter, to communicate with voters. But until last fall, so-called franking rules largely limited the use of online tools by members of Congress to official House and Senate Web sites.

After some debate on Capitol Hill, which included a grassroots campaign called Let Our Congress Tweet, the franking rules were relaxed in both houses of Congress. The rule changes encouraged YouTube to pursue the idea of creating the House and Senate pages, Mr. Grove said.

It is not clear how popular the YouTube Congressional channels will be. YouTube said that its You Choose ’08 channel for the election drew hundreds of millions of views. But most videos uploaded by lawmakers so far have attracted only small audiences.

The most popular video on the official channel of Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, was viewed 312 times. The top video on the site of Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate minority leader, had 358 views. A few Congressional videos on YouTube have been seen tens of thousands of times.

YouTube does not expect to directly benefit financially from the channels, which will not carry advertisements. But if the service is popular, YouTube may benefit from having a larger audience. YouTube’s arrangement with Congress is not exclusive. Videos can be posted to other online services.

Each member of Congress will have control over his or her channel. In addition, the official House and Senate pages will highlight various members on a rotating basis and host events, like community chats where constituents will be able to interact with their elected representatives.

“New media technologies help facilitate timely dialogue between representatives and their constituents, and this will only strengthen our democracy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement released by her office.

Plenty of lawmakers have already made heavy use of YouTube, posting clips from appearances on news channels or C-Span, or creating their own content to showcase their work or highlight the issues they care about. Representative Steve Israel of New York, for example, has created and uploaded a video blog documenting the Gulf Coast three years after Hurricane Katrina.

But some members may not have people on their staff who are adept at using technology, said John Wonderlich, a program director at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that seeks to promote transparency in government. The YouTube site is likely to help those get online, he said.

“When the House and Senate have something more official on YouTube, it will make it much more likely for staffers to feel comfortable posting a video,” Mr. Wonderlich said.

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