Gauge This: Why The CNN Audience Reaction Meter Sucks

Photo: Biden offers his stance on the Iraq War.

There’s a odd trend in the US that wants to mess with the TV aesthetics of things that aren’t broken.

For example: illuminating the movement of the puck during a hockey game back in 1996. Rather than aid the viewer, the effect resembled a lazer shooting around the ice. Thankfully the effect was dropped two years later.

But now this trend is affecting the news.

Anyone watching the debates on CNN were treated to an “audience reaction meter” – basically seismographic lines running along the bottom of the screen.

The idea is that voters from each party can register their “gut reactions” in real time while the candidates face-off. Viewers at home, like myself, can see if our own feelings mirror these lines on the screen and see if we match up.

On the one hand, it seems like an interesting idea. On the other, not so much.

Blogger Megan McKarty writes:

Whether the CNN seismograph running along the lower third measured any real shake-ups was a little harder to tell. For the most part the device seemed an inscrutable distraction, sloping up and down along basically thematic partisan lines but dipping and peaking steeply at random and inexplicable times.

The other, and more serious issue, is what the graph (and other “meters” crowding the screen) mean to the viewer: it’s becoming impossible to have an unfiltered opinion.

More than anything, the presidential debates are meant to be raw. No more hiding behind their own party rallies. No more ten second sound bytes repeated by the media. The debates are meant to offer the most accurate criteria for the average voter to judge the candidates.

But no more. Not only do we have hours of meaningless pundit analysis after the fact, the filters are being layered during the debate itself.

As another blogger writes:

Don’t you think that those active lines would have put some sway on the viewer, at least some, as they watched in “real-time” how the pointless “audience” reacted? It was a horrific and sketchy idea for [CNN] to do that.

In the guise of “aiding” the audience, we’re simply being told what to think.

Megan McKarty wraps it up best:

CNN, as the first all-news-all-the-time cable channel has become a parody of itself. The 24-hour news cycle is now getting broken down into seconds. Do we really need viewer and pundit reaction to every word, every smirk, every breath, and every phoneme uttered by a political candidate? With units of meaning in news getting smaller and smaller, we may be missing the forest for the green lines.

What did you think of the “audience meter” during the debates? Share in the comments!

Leave A Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *