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Forum to help citizens quiz the president


A non-partisan coalition of traditional and new media has launched “Ask the President,” a new online forum for citizens to submit and vote on questions for President Barack Obama at presidential press conferences.

The coalition is a partnership between The Washington Times, The Nation and Personal Democracy Forum.

“Ask the President” is aimed at advancing the voice of citizens and media in Washington, D.C. It provides a method for the White House to include one of the most popular citizen questions, posed by a journalist, for a presidential response at press conferences.

“We hope this project can engage citizens in meaningful, detailed debates,” said Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, managing editor-digital of The Washington Times, “and advance the kind of questions that are important for readers, journalists and politicians alike.”

“Ask the President” builds on the Obama administration’s initial embrace of direct dialogue with citizens online, most notably through a popular feature at soliciting citizen questions. As an independent, bipartisan effort, “Ask the President” aims for a similar dialogue, but without moderation on a government Web site.

Citizens can begin submitting questions and voting at:

The forum enables national, transparent voting through the nonpartisan, open-source Web site that successfully gathered and submitted questions to presidential candidates during the 2008 primary. 

Visitors can submit questions in writing or on video; vote other people’s questions up or down, (with one vote per I.P. address); and directly inspect the code behind the portal. 

“Ask The President” would aim to send a credentialed journalist to presidential press conferences with a list of the most popular questions selected by the public.

“Ask The President” will also reach people on social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, in order to advance discussions between traditional, social and participatory media. 

A group of political Twitter activists are doing outreach for the project through,, appealing to political networks across the Twitter spectrum.

“On his first full day in office, President Obama promised to make government more transparent, participatory and collaborative,” said Micah Sifry, cofounder of Personal Democracy Forum. “‘Ask the President’ is a citizen-driven initiative to meet President Obama on these new grounds, where the public can be a more active participant in deciding what it wants to know from its president. Hopefully, he will welcome this initiative and set a powerful example for the rest of government.”

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