Congress Gets Down with YouTube
By Jose Antonio Vargas
It's not just the Obama presidency that has gone YouTube.
So has Capitol Hill.
In a video message titled "Welcome to Congress, YouTube," congressional leaders from both chambers -- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), together with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- today announced the launch of two new YouTube pages: House Hub and Senate Hub.
"While we may not see eye to eye on everything, one thing we can agree on is the importance of utilizing technology to communicate with constituents," Pelosi said in the one-minute, 43-second announcement video.
Added Boehner: "Some of us have been posting original content there for years now."
Congressional members can create and control their videos on the hubs, which funnel YouTube users to them through a Google Map that makes it easy to find congressional channels by state. The hubs will be ad-free, to spare congressional members from potentially racy or controversial Web ads.
As of Sunday, about 130 House members and 46 senators already had YouTube channels, according to congressional staffers and YouTube officials. Pelosi, who maintains a blog called The Gavel and has participated in video iChats, was the first House member to open a YouTube channel, in May 2006.
"We aim to be wherever our constituents are getting their news -- from YouTube and blogs to Twitter and Facebook," Pelosi wrote in an e-mail to The Post.
Archaic franking rules, which were established when legislators communicated with their constituents solely through snail mail, prohibited congressional sites from linking to third-party sites such as YouTube until last year. The franking rules were revised in October, just as the presidential campaign was nearing its end.
And while President-elect Obama was getting all the attention for his useof YouTube and other social networking sites, congressional members had been experimenting with the video-sharing portal.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), for example, has become a video blogger on the road, posting videos on his trip to the Gulf Coast to observe the progress of post-Katrina efforts, and his visit to
Afghanistan to meet with troops from New York. He's posted 35 videos on his channel, which has 23 subscribers. Some of the videos have been viewed between 60 to 2,000 times -- a relatively small number.
YouTube, owned by Google, which has a growing presence in Washington, has hosted "YouTube 101" sessions with congressional staffers, many of whom are in their 20s and quite familiar with the site. In some instances, young, Web-savvy staffers are the ones pushing their bosses to get online. And while the Democrats, led by Pelosi, have been ahead in leveraging the new technologies, the GOP, now the minority in both chambers, has been catching up.
Senate Republicans created more than a dozen YouTube channels in the past week, just as the 111th Congress began. In a 50-second video uploaded last Wednesday, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) called for a tax-free Internet, saying to the camera, "I don't want your Internet bill to start looking like your phone bill."
Still, a tension remains between the buttoned-up culture of Washington and the more organic, free-wheeling style of YouTube. It's on the display in Ensign's video message -- and in today's video message by Pelosi, Reid, Boehner and McConnell.
Judging by the nearly 30 comments posted the "Welcome to Congress" video as of 3 p.m. EST -- some of them downright rude and offensive -- many viewers are not happy with Congress. And some are skeptical of the new online push. "How ridiculous, how about you spend some time fixing real problems instead of putting up youtube videos," wrote one user.
Another user offered some advice: "Get some meat into these videos and leave the pap for the spinmeisters. I see that the comments for every Senate Dem video has been disabled. Why? Scared of what you might hear? At 9 % approval rating you only have one direction you can go and that is UP. Organize these vids by subject and bill number. Follow-up often on progress. Show us you still work for us!"
Welcome, Congress, to YouTube.
This is one in a series of online columns on our growing "clickocracy," in which we are one nation under Google, with e-mail and video for all. Please send suggestions, comments and tips to email@example.com.
Posted at 4:24 PM ET on Jan 12, 2009
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