If web video has made one overarching contribution to our society (besides porn), it could be argued that the opportunity for us nobodies to “broadcast” ourselves has surpassed all others. Case in point: Chris Crocker.

Weeding through the mire that is user-gen video, it helps a great deal to be pointed to a site from a reliable source. Which is why I had my expectations set on ‘high’ when I learned that the New York Times online Op-Ed video page showcased vids from PurpleStates.tv, a web-based reality series that follows the literal and figurative journey of five regular ol’ U.S.-of-A’ers as they travel the country, exploring the candidates and their political positions, from the debates to campaigning. And even though the series was meant to stop with Super Tuesday, new video is still cropping up on their site.

There are essentially two variations on the Purple States theme. The first is a professionally edited op-ed piece that runs on NYTimes.com. It includes footage of the “citizen team” – five unique personalities of various backgrounds and beliefs – traveling the country, interviewing candidates, fellow citizens and each other. The other, far more comprehensive footage of each journalist is on the official Purple States site, which includes every video (some less compelling than others) blogs by each team member, and a forum for viewers and posters to connect to discuss the issues.

The team did not seek out to host Purple States, but rather was randomly recruited by a survey research company, which – surprise! – turned into an audition. In this regard, Purple States is a refreshing change from most reality series, in which 99 times out of 100, the participants just want to be on TV.

###The team chosen represents a diverse cross-section of the American populace, including Elizabeth Gotsdiner, a 23-year-old florist from Iowa, 50-year-old Bert Sobanik, a laid-off manufacturing professional and libertarian from New England, Tamara Briggman, a 33-year-old Baptist mother of three and former teacher from South Carolina, republican Tanya Amador-Daigle, an art gallery director from Florida, and Alex Ritchie, a grandfather from southern California who lives with his daughter and his Mexican-American son-in-law and an independent who leans to the left.

With the goal of becoming the premier citizen-driven news show on television and the net, Dr. Cynthia Farrar, who is known for orchestrating non-partisan, media-based conversations with randomly selected folks and who made a name for herself on public television, founded Purple States as the “synthesis of old media with the connectivity of the internet to make democracy accessible and engaging to large numbers of Americans.”

And that – the “engaging” part – is where I come in. It’s a lovely notion to have a web community where political conversations unspool as organically as they would in your local town hall, where everyone has an equal chance to partake in a free exchange of ideas, regardless of race, gender, age or bank accounts.  And, it’s pretty cool that due to the accessibility of the format, viewers are able to engage so directly with the citizen journalists, spout their own opinions and learn from each other.

One problem with Purple States, however, is inherent in its concept. Bert, Tanya, Elizabeth, Tamara and Alex are not professional reporters for TV or print. Their blogs are unedited and, at times, they have as much TV charisma as a car dealer starring in his own commercial. While the stuff on NYT is more polished and, shall we say, TV-ready, the endless amounts of video on PurpleStates.tv is rough, rough, rough.

Still, in big picture of user-created video, Purple States stands out as an honest, valuable socio-political experiment, even if sometimes the banality of regular folks like you and me is not always interesting.

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