Tuesday, September 30, 2008

CNN-TV: How was the coverage? That’s debatable.

by Christina London

“You’re now looking at the back of Jim Lehrer’s head.”

That’s how Wolf Blitzer kicked off CNN’s coverage of the first presidential debate, and I knew I was in for a fun ride.

I think every network and cable channel faces the same basic challenge when it comes to debate coverage: how to make it different. All it is is essentially two hours of the same three talking heads. How do you set your coverage apart from the rest?

CNN tried to do this with the “Audience Reaction Meter,” and, in my opinion, failed miserably. I couldn’t find a picture of the meter, so let me try to explain it. During the debate at the bottom of the screen, CNN displayed a graphic to gauge how the audience was feeling at any given time. Each group was represented by a thin horizontal line: blue for Democrats, red for Republicans and green for Independents. The lines would rise when people were feeling positive and fall when they were feeling negative.

My first question was, whom does that graph represent? After scavenging the CNN Web site, I realized the people in the studio audience were the ones being polled. I felt like this left out viewers at home and that they could have easily made it a national poll via the Web. More importantly though, the reaction meter was highly ineffective (especially on my little TV.) It reminded me of the lifeline I saw on “Grey’s Anatomy” the night before. The lines always fluctuated the same and never indicated who was doing better in the debate.

“Fact checking”
When the debate was said and done, Anderson Cooper and Blitzer hosted an additional 90minutes of post-debate reaction. They brought on panelists who were supposed to be fact checking what was said. However, this facade quickly came down: they were just pundits arguing how their candidate clearly did the better job.

However, I did learn some fun facts about the debate. Did you know:

  • 3,000 journalists from around the world were expected to cover the debate?

  • By 11:15, both campaigns had already put out statements that their candidate had won the debate? (That’s only 15 minutes after it ended.)

  • Half of the time was devoted to finances and the economy, NOT foreign policy like it was supposed to be?

  • Vocabulary Lesson
    "YouTube moment"- a video clip worthy of being played again and again on YouTube

    I've heard the phrase "YouTube moment" before, but I've never heard it thrown around on network news like it was during the debate wrap-up. Many of the pundits agreed that there was only one "YouTube moment" from the debate. Take a look as Barack Obama tells John McCain "John, you're wrong" on the war in Iraq:

    Do you think there were any other "YouTube moments" from the debate?

    1 comment:

    Natalie said...

    During the VP debates CNN used a similar voter tracking graph, but this time it was of 15 men and 15 women in Columbus (yay, Ohio!) who were uncommitted to a candidate. I'm not sure if this is more or less interesting than tracking studio audience members...