YouTubification of Primary Debates Doesn’t Translate

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Anybody catch the much-hyped CNN/YouTube debates last night? I did. On AM 820, our local NPR station — WNYC.

It seems as though many “Rah! Rah! YouTube!” “Horray for Bloggers!” types have agreed — as it seems they agreed to do before they even experienced this new debating form — that these debates finally gave the average American a voice. Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation, seems to sum it up in a post to the lefty publication’s blog: “What’s heartening and hopeful is that tonight marked the end of debates as we’ve known them. Let the peoples’ voices be heard.”

Well, I have a lot of thoughts about how insipid some of the voter-generated video questions were (39 chosen from 3,000 submitted clips), and how flippantly the entire production treated an event that deserves more dignity. But I’ll stick to the media side of things.

If the promise of amateur Web video is that it will eventually translate to other media, or perhaps supplant professionally-produced content, this YouTubification of a Democratic Primary debate proved it shouldn’t or won’t, at least successfully. Anybody who’s watched Current TV for more than two minutes knows what I mean.

Not only were viewers and listeners subjected to talking snowmen and egregious southern stereotypes and other inappropriately light-hearted fare, they had to put up with downright poor production quality. The video clips probably didn’t sound quite as bad on TV as they did on AM radio, but the fact that the sound quality was as muddled and scratchy as it was made for an extremely dissatisfying experience.

And, hey, I’m the first to admit the typical debate formats aren’t exactly exhilarating, but do they need to be? Do we need a talking snowman to convince us to pay attention to a discussion about global warming? Do we need loud obnoxious music with indecipherable lyrics to serve as a debate question? In other words, does the YouTubification of a primary debate truly serve the intent of a debate?

The outcome seemed more muddled, confused and exhibitionist than substantive. Kinda like most amateur Web video content. I’m not knocking amateur Web video, but it has its place and the notion that it belongs in every venue (including McDonald’s TV spots) is misguided.

Who knows? Maybe the next time ’round they’ll do it better. We’ll have a chance to find out during the YouTube Republican Debate September 17th.

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