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The debates and the Internet

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Media commentary


Christopher Waddell

While media organizations covering the campaign fall over themselves to hype the importance of the Internet in this campaign, there’s a reason why they are concentrating on the frequently inconsequential (what’s available on blogs and You Tube) and ignoring the web’s real potential. 

For instance treating 10,000 people watching a Stephane Dion clip on YouTube as being significant, misses the point by a mile. There are about 100,000 voters in every urban riding in Canada, there are about 20,000,000 people eligible to vote and the Globe and Mail, for instance, sells about 300,000 copies a day across the country. So how important are those 10,000 hits on a YouTube clip?

More important is the fact that the Internet creates the potential to tell stories in different ways, combining audio, video, still photographs and text. 

But if news organizations focused on highlighting examples of that, they would have to direct their readers, listeners and viewers to innovative work at competitors’ sites that would take those eyes away from their own newspapers, newscasts, programs and web sites. Imagine for instance CBC’s The National highlighting an interesting way to package information and tell a story that’s on the CTV News web site, or the Globe and Mail sending readers to the Toronto Star’s site. It’s not going to happen.

It’s easier to focus “Internet coverage” on blogs and YouTube – often reported with little context about who is producing it or sense of what impact they have on voters.

The Internet is MUCH more than that.

Here’s an example  from the New York Times of the potential for the Internet to change significantly how we see and absorb information. By the way you can watch all the major speeches – Republicans and Democrats – from the two U.S. conventions this way on the Times web site 

My bet is that the Times will do the same thing for the three Presidential debates – the first one is this Friday.

I hope a Canadian news organization will do the same for our leaders’ debates on Oct 1 and 2 – if one does, I’ll bet their competitors won’t mention it. 

Christopher Waddell is associate director of the school and a former Globe and Mail Ottawa bureau chief, former CBC-TV parliamentary bureau chief and election night executive producer for CBC TV News.