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Debate over whether YouTube made a difference
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The latest presidential debate format, which debuted with video questions uploaded to YouTube, was widely applauded on Tuesday for spontaneity and for forcing candidates to be more flexible.
But several commentators and YouTube.com members said Monday night's CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate represented more of a successful marketing effort than a sea change in the political landscape.
"In many ways it was a traditional media debate with a new little sheen put on it with the videos," said Tobe Berkovitz, dean at Boston University College of Communications.
The 39 questions posed by ordinary citizens highlighted "the role new media is playing in politics and everything else in society," he added.
About the biggest complaint was that CNN's political team chose the questions used in the debate out of nearly 3,000 submitted. There was also some dismay that not everyone had access to technology to upload videos to the Internet.
"I have no doubt ... that we, the people, would have done a better job picking the questions than CNN did," said blogger Jeff Jarvis, of www.buzzmachine.com. "This should have been a debate held online."
The format was designed to evoke more spontaneity and many viewers felt it got candidates to drop rehearsed answers as they debated more than 15 months before the November 2008 election.
It sparked lively exchanges between the eight Democrats on Iraq and diplomacy, and an extended discussion of race and gender involving Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
A number of YouTube members posted videos after the debate to give opinions.
"I think you catered and pandered to Mrs. Clinton and Obama," a man identified as Norman said of the front-runners. "I think it turned out to be a typical debate as in the past except that we had a couple of different questions."
Michelle from West Virginia, however, said she loved the debate and "learned a little more about the candidates."
NEW ELEMENT TO POLITICS
Phil Noble, founder of PoliticsOnline.com, said the format would get more people engaged in the political process and give politicians a better chance to connect with the voters.
"Is this an important new addition to campaigns? Clearly it is," he said. "We have added a new element to politics."
Albert Maruggi, a press secretary for the Republican National Committee in the 1980s, said the unique type of questions also helped force the candidates off their prepared responses.
Maruggi said about 25 percent of the questions -- which were posed by a guitar player, a melting snowman and a man fondling an assault rifle -- would not have been asked in a debate with a panel of journalists as questioners.
"The questions were a little bit farther afield than what you would get from a normal debate," said election expert Philip Klinkner, a government professor at Hamilton College. "There was sort of a frivolous air about it that made (the candidates) loosen up a bit."
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