AOL has gotten something really right especially heading into the mid-term elections. And, coming from a reformed AOL-hater based on my extraordinarily bad experience as a premier financial sucker... err I mean... advertiser while with CSFBdirect, means something. Over at AOL Elections Blog which launched a little over a week ago, they provide blogging coverage of everything political leading up to the 2006 mid-term elections. I like the coverage, the issues and view points, as well as the integration of news and AOL video. The best and I really do mean the best part of the AOL Elections Blog is the Ask Sam feature.
Ask Sam is ABC News Veteran Sam Donaldson as the voice of reason in this political season. Using video, Sam answers questions posed by readers and comments on everything from who would be a stronger candidate Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama, why the gas prices are dropping so close to the election, and others. The videos are well done, of course, and he answers the questions in about 2 minutes. All answers include a 15 second video ad before the question is answered with a matching box ad unit to the right. Of course you can't skip the pre-roll video commercial - try that in a TV commercial.
Ok, so the design is great as is the integration with the advertising. However, what makes this so brilliant is Sam as the arbiter of the answers. In an era where there are multiple cable channels and radio stations, blogs, websites, podcasts, and etc people don't have to listen to different view points or even neutral ones. They can just consistently listen to the same opinion but packaged slightly differently. No longer do people need to sit around and watch Walter Cronkite provide a mostly (believed) unbiased reporting and then discuss it as a family.
Ask Sam bring us back to a place where liberals and conservatives, republicans and democrats can get the same question answered by a neutral source. Mr. Donaldson provides frank commentary that is believable and allows people to socialize around his comment. In this day and age where people can listen to podcasts that reinforce their opinion, Sam Donaldson provides a neutral voice to an iPOD nation.