Thursday, December 06, 2007

MySpace-MTV Town Hall Wins Presidential Debate Format Wars...

On Monday, MySpace and MTV sponsored a Town Hall meeting featuring Republican presidential candidate John McCain, and it was the most interactive and internet-savvy yet.

As Sarah Lai Stirland writes in Wired, "As with earlier events in the MTV-MySpace series, the town hall focused on only one presidential candidate, rather than a panel of several. Voters were invited to submit questions to McCain in real-time through instant messaging and e-mail. The questions were selected on the spot by Washington Post political blogger and columnist Chris Cillizza, and voters could rate the answers online; results were tallied and displayed instantly on the web and in the MTV broadcast."

The CNN-YouTube debate, in contrast, was severely criticized for failing to allow citizens to have any input in what questions were selected, and for selectively screening those questions without any announced standards.

The more open MTV-MySpace format, which cedes a greater amount of control to the audience, resulted in questions that "roamed over a broader set of subjects" more in line with the priorities of the American people. While the CNN-YouTube debate heavily emphasized questions relating to the candidates' religious points of view, the MTV-MySpace Town Hall addressed a wider range of topics including the falling value of the dollar, stopping the genocide in Darfur, protecting the environment, the state of public schools, and much more.

Surely, more work needs to be done - for instance, extending this more open format to a debate with more than just one candidate being featured and further minimizing the role of journalists as gatekeepers of question selection. However, the MTV-MySpace format is certainly a step in the right direction, and serves to prove a point, highlighted by Stirland, but already understood in cyberspace - the less direct control, the better.


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