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How CNN And YouTube Forged A Presidential-Debate Partnership

CNN YouTube presidential debate

CNN runs one of the world's most advanced newsrooms: Holograms stream over the airwaves, touchscreens dot the walls, and reporters and producers practically have iPads attached to their hips. Tonight, that forward-thinking tradition continues with the network's first GOP debate—which will include conservative stars such at Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann—of the upcoming presidential election. Moderators will accept questions and comments through Facebook and Twitter (hashtag #CNNdebate); live streams of the debate will be available online; and QR codes will appear on-screen throughout the night, enabling smartphone users to scan and access exclusive CNN content.

Such interactive and social media-savvy coverage wasn't always so commonplace in politics. But last week at Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business event, David Bohrman, CNN's chief innovation officer and No. 86 on our list, gave a bit of insight into how part of the tech-centric evolution began at CNN.

Years back, in 2006, Bohrman sat in the office of Jon Klein, then-president of CNN. The two were involved in a long brainstorming session that seemed to have hit a brick wall, when Klein suddenly stood up, perhaps frustrated, to leave the room for a break. But before walking out of the office, he turned and simply said, "think about social media," Bohrman recalls.

According to Bohrman, that's when the pressure set in: When your boss leaves the room and asks for ideas before he returns, the clock starts ticking. Bohrman began racking his brain. His mind shot back to a meeting between CNN executives and Google earlier that year when he met then-CEO Eric Schmidt. "'Eric said to me, 'Whatever Google can do for you, let us know,'" Bohrman recalls.

Perhaps CNN can now take him up on that offer, Bohrman thought. He remembered that Google had since acquired YouTube. Soon the pieces started falling into place. The idea evolved into the CNN-YouTube presidential debates, a series of debates in which candidates took questions from user-submitted videos. And it all started with a 60-second brainstorming session, a chance meeting with Erich Schmidt, and Google's serendipitous purchase of YouTube.