New Website Solicits Questions For Candidates

This story was written by Natalie Zutter, Washington Square News
Posing questions to presidential candidates can be like sending a letter to Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. While you may not be making quite the same requests, the lack of response is a shared frustration. But this year, while Santa will leave you hanging, the candidates might actually answer back.

Straight2TheCandidates.com is a website created and maintained by students, urging Americans of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds to pose questions to this election's candidates. Users can then rate one another's questions, making the best questions the top priority.

Straight2TheCandidates.com is based on the successful German website direktzu.de, which was created from the struggles of a group of students to contact their legislature about grants. American University freshman Shannon Sullivan, one of the creators and maintainers of the United States version, said the site's mission is to "discuss politics in a clean, neutral atmosphere."

Working three to four hours a day, the team of 16 American University freshmen generates media attention, creates outreach groups for campuses in D.C., sets up interviews and phone calls, reads political blogs, and contacts the candidates and non-governmental organizations in the area.

"As a grassroots organization, we're learning as we go," Sullivan said. "I write press releases [and] I can now speak HTML fluently. I never thought I'd have to do anything like that this young."

Visitors to the site have the option of posting either a text or video message or hear what their peers have to say by choosing either the "speak out" or "listen in" option.

Buttons are common on the site; there is one for each candidate, and the button size corresponds to how many questions each candidate has. A larger button allows the webmasters to "gauge the number of responses and how quickly people are responding," and of course, size also motivates the candidates to respond.

"Listen in" allows all users to rate questions on a 1 to 10 scale and comment on their peers' questions.

People can submit questions until Nov. 4, when the entire collection will be submitted to the respective candidates. The hope is that the candidates will mirror the German bureaucrats and respond within a week in video format. The best case scenario would be if users were to then respond to the candidates' responses and create an online dialogue.

Straight2TheCandidates.com is also part of a larger umbrella website called "Straight2Who." Based on the success of this project, it could lead to future editions targeting soldiers in Iraq, Americans (Europeans could ask questions of U.S. citizens) and possibly even celebrities. For now though, Straight2TheCandidates.com is the team's primary focus.

"The idea is for a political forum," Sullivan said. "We'll never have any advertising on the site; we procure our own funding. We keep this as nonpartisan, nonbiased and clean as possible - a place where Americans can come directly, and the entire focus is on politics."

There's no doubt that Sullivan and the other members of Straight2TheCandidates.com will continue this project for some time to come.

"We definitely want to keep this a student-run organization," Sullivan said. "We've been asked, 'Would you ever want to pass it on to someone more qualified?' and we say, 'No!' We're passionate about this cause -- this is our brainchild; we want to keep it running."

"This story appears courtesy of UWIRE, a news service powered by student journalists at more than 800 universities. To learn more, visit UWIRE.com."
© 2007 Washington Square News via U-WIRE
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