Any of my readers, who were watching election nights in the 1960’s, or even in the winning days of Ronald Reagan during the 1980’s, understand there is a vast difference in the way we watch the polling returns on television. It seems that the old black and white films of Walter Cronkite reporting the news of John Kennedy’s victory in 1960 are almost from a prehistoric age given the advances that have been made with computer technology and media maturity. Don’t get me wrong, I think those old videos, and the reporters along with the politicians of that age were often incredible individuals. But the contrasts with Election Nights during this primary season make for such a difference that many are making note of it.
Starting with the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary it has been fun to see how the all-news networks that seem to thrive and specialize on election coverage have used technology to enhance their broadcasts. And none seems to have achieved that goal better than CNN. If you have watched John King do his ‘thing’ on CNN then you know what I am referring to. If not, well be glad that this is one very long election year, as you will have plenty of time to see the visual spice.
If the white memo board Mr. Russert used on election night in 2000 were to get an extreme, high-tech makeover, it would probably emerge looking like the map Mr. King has been piloting on CNN. Measuring nearly seven and a half feet diagonally, the screen, along with its database, seems more suited to a commander moving troops around a battlefield, which is no accident. David Bohrman, who oversees CNN’s political coverage, fell in love with the monitor after seeing it at a military intelligence trade show last year. (Mr. Bohrmanrefused to say how much CNN had paid for the device, which is made by a company called Perceptive Pixel.)
Asked about his new toy on a recent morning at CNN’s New York City headquarters as his fingers darted from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to Erie in a dry run of the Pennsylvania primary on Tuesday night, Mr. King said the technology enabled him to turn back the clock as much as move it forward. For more than a decade before joining CNN in 1997, Mr. King was a reporter for The Associated Press, and election nights usually found him systematically telephoning precincts to collect their tallies.
“I’m in TV 10 years, but in my head and heart, I’m still an old wire guy, a grunt,” Mr. King said. “You can use this new technology to look at politics the old-fashioned way, which is: who’s finding their people and turning them out?”
And yet Mr. King said that his touch screen allows him to present data in ways far more dazzling and compelling than in his days tapping out election results in A.P. bureaus in Providence, R.I., and later Washington, or even in his early years at CNN. The technology has also helped him solve a problem with which he has occasionally wrestled in his career at CNN: adapting his just-the-facts-ma’am approach to a visual medium.
“Nothing against white guys, but I’m a white guy talking in a box,” he said, stripping his broadcast performance to its essence. “If all I’m doing is saying, ‘6 percent, 8 percent, 10 percent, 12 percent,’ there’s that glaze-over factor at home. You’ve lost them.”
“The wonder of this,” he said a moment later, gesturing toward what is essentially a giant Etch-a-Sketch, “is that you can show it. You can make the math accessible.”
Technorati Tags: CNN, JohnKing, NewYorkTimes, ElectionNight,