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Top 5 examples of digital debate coverage

Top 5 examples of digital debate coverage

5. Memory lane, by ABC News via the Huffington Post

Let’s start from the beginning: Nixon slammed his knee on a car door for the second time, and an aid applied a coat of “lazy shave” to hide his six o’clock shadow. Meanwhile, JFK was changing from a white shirt into a light blue one to avoid glare in his televised image.

September 26, 1960 marked a milestone in political journalism: it was the first time that a pair of U.S. presidential hopefuls had ever faced off before their country for a live, televised debate.

The candidates were John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Richard Millhous Nixon. For American voters, it was an unprecedented opportunity to watch their two presidential candidates duke it out, from the comfort of their homes.

Ten sets of televised debates later, not only do many American voters still tune in from their living rooms, but tens of millions of people around the world stream the action- and participate in the commentary it engenders- from a plethora of devices.

This year, CNN has even enabled users to edit the debate into video clips to share on social media. Needless to say, debate coverage has come a long way; by embedding this black-and-white ABC flashback into one of its slideshows, the Huffington Post did a good job of putting things in perspective.

4. Pre-debate infographic, by The New York Times

Ever since that first debate 52 years ago, presidential gesticulation has been a hot topic. The advent of television allowed voters to focus, for the first time, on the body language and physical appearance of their candidates.

Gestures have become a matter of great importance, particularly when it comes to face-to-face combat. The New York Times, with the help of Peggy Hackney, an expert in Laban movement analysis, published an infographic the day before the first debate, examining how the candidates' habitual physical motions, from Obama's ball-waving to Romney's tilt-and-nod, affect our perceptions of them.

3. GIF me a break, by Tumblr and the Guardian

The natural extension of examining candidates' signature gestures is to create animated GIFs out of them, right? And surely the natural extension of that is for GIF-haven Tumblr and live-coverage expert the Guardian to gather a team of animators to "live-GIF" round one of the debates.

Throughout the debate, "GIF-making all-stars" Bobby Finger, Lacey Micallef, Mr. GIF and Tumblr Editorial Director Christopher Price churned out animations, and Guardian journalist Adam Gabbatt sifted through them, highlighting their best work.

The result? Obama wielding a lightsaber, a three-headed Romney ("a head for every stance he’s taken on abortion," according to the commentary), and a frightening image of the candidates’ faces morphing into one another, with a red hashtag banner labeling the shifty creature #USA (before shots below).

2. Live blogging, by the Guardian

"The Guardian's crack team will be dissecting this debate and its aftermath like a police pathologist doing an autopsy on CSI, which Ewen MacAskill in the Denver spin room, Gary Younge and Ana Marie Cox painting the big pictures, and Adam Gabbatt translating the candidates' tortured body language into animated gifs via our seminal collaboration with microblogging site Tumblr," promised the first entry in the Guardian's live blog of U.S. presidential debate, posted at 23:05 BST. And boy, did they.

The live blog, filed under the byline Richard Adams from Washington D.C., continued until 5:10 BST and garnered 334 comments. It is an example of digital curation at its best, offering a comprehensive, participative, thought-provoking, and at times hilarious real-time scrutiny of the debate in Denver (which tastes just as good served cold).

1. Fact-checking, by The New York Times and the Washington Post

Perhaps the single biggest difference between the live presidential debate that was broadcast on television from Chicago in September 1960 and last night's event was that last night, Obama and Romney were not merely debating with one-another (and occasionally PBS moderator Jim Lehrer); they were debating with any Internet user who chose to engage.

A television audience is no longer couch-bound and passive -- anyone who wishes to may jump into the fray, armed with little more than a hashtag and a search engine, and challenge the candidates' assertions, sometimes tearing their arguments to shreds.

News organisations like The New York Times and the Washington Post used this to their advantage and ours last night by crowdsourcing questions for fact-checking, both through their websites and on Twitter, using hashtags #AskNYT and #FactCheckThis. The New York Times also put together an interactive fact-checking feature: a time-coded video and transcript of the debate, annotated with fact-checking questions and answers.

When it comes down to it, the objective of covering the U.S. presidential debates is not to meld the two candidates' faces into a terrifying super-meme (though such a feat is nothing to scoff at), but to help American voters make an informed choice about who should lead their country. The news organisations involved are doing their jobs well when they arm citizens with as much accurate information as possible in as timely a manner as possible, helping them hold their politicians to account.

This has not changed in the last 52 years. But with sharp new tools at their disposal, journalists are doing better work than ever.


Emma Knight


2012-10-04 15:36

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