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World leaders don’t often take interviews from YouTube stars known for science education, make-up tutorials, and eating cereal out of a bathtub while swimming in it. But make no mistake: Hank Green, Bethany Mota, and GloZell Green didn’t waste their chance to interview President Barack Obama, live on YouTube.

Read on to find out what happens when #YouTubeAsksObama.

Background

The White House welcomed three prominent YouTube creators and vlog 5 YouTube Vlogs To Put On Your Web Video Watching List 5 YouTube Vlogs To Put On Your Web Video Watching List I know that in the mid-to-late 2000's, vlogs ruled the Internet with the purest form of free speech in the world. However, even though we're in a totally different decade, I'm pretty confident that vlogging... Read More personalities to interview President Obama on January 22nd – two days after his State of the Union speech. It’s not the first time that President Obama has taken to YouTube to reach out to to public (which more likely to use the site to watch cat videos, or YouTube Haikus YouTube Haikus: Short, Sweet And Absolutely Hysterical YouTube Haikus: Short, Sweet And Absolutely Hysterical Read More ), but it was the first time that YouTube-grown celebrities got to interview him.

The YouTube Interviewers

It’s a colourful cast that was chosen to interview the President. Here’s a quick profile on each of the interviewers.

Hank Green

Hank Green, one half of the Vlogbrothers, is the host of SciShow and the creator of Subbable (which lets you support YouTube creators Can Subbable Change The Face Of Online Content Creation? Can Subbable Change The Face Of Online Content Creation? Subbable has the opportunity to change the way we consume content. It strikes a middle ground, aiming to get rid of ads while still keeping the content free for those who can't afford it. Read More  who produce content you love). He’s an engaging, dynamic, and passionate educator, and if you join his over 2 million YouTube subscribers who watch his videos, you’re sure to learn a lot.

Here’s a video he produced a few months ago in 2014, where he covers discoveries in space, for SciShow News.

GloZell Simon

GloZell Simon, who goes by GloZell Green on YouTube, is a 52 year old comedian who occasionally posts beauty tutorials, and participates in ‘challenges’ such as eating dry cinnamon. She has over 3 million YouTube subscribers, who watch her talk about her life and do silly stunts like eating cereal in her bathtub… while sitting in it.

Bethany Mota

19 year old Bethany Mota is a YouTube star with over 8 million subscribers, and is known for videos on make-up, hair, fashion, and DIY projects for party hosting. Here’s a sample of her work from a few weeks ago.

The Format

Ahead of the interview, Hank, GloZell, and Bethany reached out to their followers for perspective on what to ask. I think that’s one of the best features of this format: millions of ordinary people got to connect with someone they are already fans of, and let them know what they’re curious about. We don’t often get chances like that.

The video is a little over 45 minutes long, including a brief intro by host Steve Grove from the News Lab at Google. He covers what a YouTube interview is, some relevant Google trends Google Trends : Buzz-Meter for Topics on the Web Google Trends : Buzz-Meter for Topics on the Web Read More that occurred during the live interviews, and of course, the interviews themselves. The questions were not seen by the President prior to the interview, and the sessions were not scripted.

One delightful aspect of the whole format was that each of the YouTube interviewers got to host their interview on a mini-set of their own, set up in the White House.

The Interviews

A diverse cast of interviewers like Hank, GloZell, and Bethany together make this event really special. They all bring their own personalities and life experiences to their questions, and together do great job of capturing, broadly, many of the issues at the top of American’s minds.

Interview with Hank

hankgreen-obama

Hank Green kicks off the interview session by referencing the State of the Union speech, asking “if any of it was politically feasible”. Hank Green also asks about middle-class economics, drone strikes, sanctioning North Korea, and a wide variety of controversial topics. Turns out he’s a tough interviewer, and a thoughtful one – he aimed to put a spotlight on global and American politics and what can come out of the political decisions made at the federal level.

Interview with GloZell

glozell-obama

GloZell Green was the second to interview the President. A lot of people criticised the decision to include GloZell – they thought she would be unprofessional and it wouldn’t be worth the President’s time – but it’s important not to be prejudiced against a person just because she is an entertainer. GloZell asked about cyber security, racism in America, same-sex marriage, and more. Many of her questions involved a personal story, and framing her questions in that way shows how Federal politics impact the average American. 

Interview with Bethany

bethany-obama

Many also criticised the decision to take questions from Bethany Mota, but she didn’t squander her minutes with the President. Bethany asked questions that relate to young people in particular. She begins her session by asking about making an affordable post-secondary education, ending cyberbullying, getting young people interested in politics, and more. Bethany ends her interview with a ‘lightning round’ of fun questions that came from her YouTube channel viewers.

Watch the whole video to the end to find out the President’s childhood ambitions, his thoughts on super powers, and more!

Watch #YouTubeAsksObama

Final Thoughts

I’m a Canadian. The Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, has not embraced new media quite like President Barack Obama has – and I envy the Americans for that. 

I hope we get to see more of world leaders using YouTube as a communication platform, and I think in time we will. It shows respect for technology, is effective at reaching the younger generation, and it provides a voice for people who may have otherwise felt disenfranchised from traditional media.

These three entertaining YouTube stars are so vibrant, yet humble, that it helps us all connect with the President. Showing each of these YouTubers the same consideration and respect normally reserved for old-school reporters builds engagement with the general public in a way no press conference ever can.

Before I hand this off to you, the MakeUseOf community, I want to know what you think about these questions:

How do you feel about the people selected to interview President Obama? If you were in their shoes, what would you want to ask? Should other politicians (world leaders, the Pope, local mayors?) hold YouTube interview sessions like this? If so, with whom? 

  1. Justin Pot
    January 26, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Hank Green put together a nice piece about the media reaction to this interview – and what it says about the media. https://medium.com/@hankgreen/holy-shit-i-interviewed-the-president-fa3e8fb44d16

  2. Keefe K.
    January 25, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    Welp...it may be too late for Stephen Harper but maybe in this upcoming election the parties will make better use of new media and also keep using it once they're elected. I think the setup of this interview allows regular people to ask the questions that are on the people's mind instead of just what questions the media asks. It also make some of the more controversial questions unavoidable then when you're in a press conference. It's nice to see how Obama is willing to embrace new technology and I really hope that Canada does the same. :)

    • Jessica C
      January 26, 2015 at 8:35 am

      Hi Keefe,
      Maybe it's my cynicism talking but somehow I don't think we'll see Canadian parties embrace new media much better in the upcoming election cycle. Cross my fingers though!
      Cheers,
      Jessica C

    • Keefe K.
      January 26, 2015 at 11:39 pm

      Don't worry...I'm not so optimistic about it either. Lol But one can hope!

  3. Justin Dennis
    January 25, 2015 at 2:57 am

    this whole thing made me so happy. so glad to see youtubers getting the recognition they deserve, and they all did such good jobs. :)

    • Jessica C
      January 25, 2015 at 1:21 pm

      I know, eh?

      It's so silly that traditional media hates on these sorts of events and the power of new media.

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