Nov 30, 2007

Unharnessed passion

I'm automatically suspicious of anyone who singles out Anderson Cooper for praise. But let's set that aside for now.

Dan Kennedy at Media Nation suggests that the reason CNN got hoodwinked by a Hillary Clinton adviser at Wednesday's CNN-YouTube debate is because of an unclear and convoluted system of sorting through the 5,000 or so submitted v-questions.

(The adviser, a retired general, buttonholed the Republican candidates with a question on gays in the military.)

Frankly, if we are going to let "citizens" become the media, then I think we have to take the good with the bad. I'm not sure you can call what CNN did a mistake under the vague ground rules citizen journalists advocate.

Still, Kennedy said there is a better way to harness the power of citizen media and he provides his own outline for how to better filter the questions:
  • Have people upload videos in six or eight subject categories — the war in Iraq, terrorism, taxes, immigration, the environment, whatever.
  • Subject those videos to light vetting to make sure none is tilted for or against a particular candidate, or is grotesquely offensive.
  • Let the YouTube community vote on the best video in each category. Those are the questions that will be asked.
I don't see how this would have solved the adviser problem. Also, Kennedy has failed to grasp the key flaw in the YouTube-style debate: It's-a-fucking-gimmick. The only way to improve it is to scrap it.

What's the fetish about showing "regular" people in their dimly lit homes stammering through sometimes off-the-wall questions? The only reason I can see is it promotes YouTube and, by extension, CNN for being hip enough to know lots of people use the online service.

Until we find a way to let every American ask his or her question, someone is going to filter through the queries. So why waste time with this charade of populism? Why not ask political reporters from around the country - big media and small - to submit questions? At least then you'd have people who make it their job to follow local and national trends asking informed questions.

The conceit is that there is a "citizen media". There are people who aren't journalists who have questions for politicians. But, like the retired general, they also have agendas and a desire to influence the election.

A journalist is someone from the citizen ranks who decides he or she is willing to set aside that personal agenda and act a representative for the public at large. Anyone who wants to can apply - the more the merrier! But our ranks are dwindling because the corporations who don't want to pay us would rather "empower" the citizen media to ask the questions for free. The trade-off is objectivity.

The retired general probably wasn't the only partisan questioner but he was the only one who got caught. That's because he's well-known.


Dan Kennedy said...

Yes, let's have professional journalists ask questions. Now, there's an original idea.

Gary Scott said...

I'm not advocating originality.