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What a great idea!  Online Candidate Forums

Angie Price of the Bay Times explains new strategy
Traditionally, the Bay Times and Record Observer have hosted the county commission candidate forum to inform and educate the public on where the candidates stand on the issues. In the past, the forum has been held between the primary and general elections, when the field has been whittled to 10 candidates. However, this year three of the county commission seats were to be decided in the primary. So, we were faced with the challenge of how to hold a forum for 15 candidates.

Realizing that very few people want to spend three or more hours at a night meeting, we came up a concept to allow the public to participate at their leisure (lunch break, watch a couple interviews) and that would not take up a lot of each candidate's time. We partnered with our local public access channel, QAC-TV, to host what we called an online county commission candidate forum.

We offered the candidates a choice of about 10 dates and fairly open time slots, and they were all delighted to participate since we made it easy for them. I only had three of the 15 that had to be rescheduled — and only one of those was a multiple rescheduler.

We interviewed each candidate — just as we would in a nighttime forum, asking the same questions and allowing the same amount of time per answer — but individually in the studio at QAC-TV. Each candidate had two minutes to introduce themselves and explain why they wanted to be commissioner. Each was asked to describe the top issues facing the county (two minutes). Then we asked a series of topical questions culled from reader suggestions (one minute each). Each candidate had one minute for a conclusion.

The TV guys took care of the video taping and editing to add the intro and ending to each segment. The result was a YouTube video of each candidate's interview, which we posted on a special page on our website. We used a randomizer to rotate the order of the candidates so no one candidate would be first or last. QAC-TV also posted the videos and ran them in blocks on Channel 7.

Our goal, which we achieved, was to have the interviews ready to post about a month before the primary to allow people plenty of time to review them. The online forum was easily accessible to anyone with Internet access or cable television.

We ran ads online and in the newspaper to promote it and all the reactions we got from the public were positive. The people I spoke with were pleased they could check out the candidates when it fit their schedules. The candidates thought it was great because it didn't take up a lot of their time and it helped them spread their message. The more social media savvy among them even posted links on their Facebook pages.
(Then when we did our primary page, we also linked each candidate's interview to his or her profile story.)

See the finished project here. If you have questions about how this might work in your market, please feel free to contact me at baytimes@kibaytimes.com.

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