ATLANTA, Ga.--CNN rolled out its latest whiz-bang election coverage technology on Super Tuesday, a "virtual convention floor" that visualized what the delegates might look like at the Republican National Convention--and how they stack up per candidate--in a way that anyone who's played Sims or Second Life would be very familiar with.
"Sure, it's a gimmick, you could call it that" Sam Feist, said in an interview in CNN's control room, demonstrating the new video game-like method just hours before putting it on the air. "We call it a tool."
Tom Foreman, a correspondent, wandered out of an interview with Wolf Blitzer and into the virtual world. It took several weeks to produce, Feist said, and CNN shot several different versions, anticipating different Super Tuesday scenarios ("Rick Santorum wins Ohio!") to be displayed on-screen. (Unlike the rest of CNN's Super Tuesday coverage, its "virtual convention floor" was not live.)
CNN's approach to technology--like the Magic Wall, which predated the will.i.am via hologram!--has been maligned by critics. But Feist is undeterred.
"Our approach is simple: We use technology to give viewers more information, to apply context" Feist said. "The GOP has been talking about these silly brokered conventions--well, here's how that might look."
"I think it's kind of cool," Mark Whitaker, managing editor of CNN Worldwide, said near the back of the control room. "The stunts can be overdone, but this balances our strength in graphics and analysis."
Ironically, CNN's best moment on Super Tuesday involved the least amount high-tech wizardry possible: a good, old-fashioned impromptu interview with Sarah Palin in Wasilla, Alaska, using a single remote camera. The former vice presidential candidate strolled into her local caucus center to vote as CNN's Paul Vercammen nabbed her for a quick interview.
Palin said she wouldn't rule out a run for president in 2016 and wouldn't close the door on entering the race in a brokered convention. "Anything is possible and I don't close any doors that would perhaps be open out there," Palin told Vercammen, who was covering the caucuses from Wasilla. "My plan is to be at that convention." As CNN slapped an "EXCLUSIVE" tag on the screen, Palin and Wasilla began trending on Twitter.
"We thought we weren't going to get busted walking through here today, and here you are," Palin told Vercammen. "You're a lucky dude."
The CNN control room erupted in laughter.
"We have the most people of any network in the field tonight, period," Feist said a few hours before the Palin coup. "None of that is a gimmick."
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