There´s just another premiere during the US presidential election campaign, which does formally take place next year, but is already in full activity. The word of „perpetual campaigning“ has never been more fitting.
After announcing campaign entry early this year (mostly by, of course, online video) and first internal debates in springtime the so-called ”CNN/YouTube-Debate” on July 23rd established another new media format in the, well, early pre-campaign-phase.
The democratic hopefuls faced their audience in the at least unconventional form of a „panel of eight“, which had not very much in common with the usually very symmetric staging of a two-person-debate. In an entirely new mode of „rapid response“ Clinton, Obama, Edwards et. al. had to make their remarks on important campaign issues, discuss current affairs or simply assess the competitor standing to their left – the main invention was on the side of their interviewers: neither professional journalists (like in a press panel during the regular presidential debates) nor ordinary citizens (like during a townhall meeting) led the debate. 39 video-clips, submitted to YouTube and selected by a CNN-coordinated editorial board took over this crucial part of mediated political conversation.
A first assessment of this „milestone in campaign history (CNN on CNN/YouTube) has to take into consideration two main aspects:
1. The process of frontloading the candidate selection is emphasized and draws a decision even more away from the primaries and, of course, election day. Not only the campaign schedule is massively extended, also campaign costs rise just by widening the campaign calendar. And another point might be taken into consideration: will the primaries still function as a participative mechanism in order to ground the candidate selection process within party strutcures or at least a vague supporting basis? There´s a good chance that the extended efforts of both, hopefuls and media, will hollow the principle of state-by-state-selection (just take a look on the multitude of debates organized by CNN).
2. Creating the Campaign is no longer exclusive to candidates, PACs, „old-fashioned“ journalists, or „a-list“ bloggers – ordinary citizens step in, producing loads of so-called „voter-generated content“. Considering the CNN-YouTube-Debate, still the old gatekeepers are in charge: CNN officials reviewed and selected the 39 videoclips that made their way through to the eight contestants, this sure will be also the case in the next version of this audition-like TV-Show to be held on September 17 – then the Republican Party provides the line-up.
Slowly, a new mode of campaigning shines through, one could try to describe it as Open Source Campaigning: candidates and (mass) media are no longer unescorted on the campaign trail. Watch out, the voters are out there, too.