Slate, the Industry Standard, and washingtonpost.com join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000.
McCurry and cyberdebate co-director Doug Bailey, a founder and former publisher of the Hotline, a political newsletter, say it's not surprising that the candidates are still undecided given the frenzied pace of politics. They remain confident, however, that the candidates ultimately will realize that the benefits of participating are too great to pass up.
"It is an opportunity to get your message out the way you want to in an unedited way," says Bailey, a former Republican political consultant.
And not to be downplayed is the huge potential reach of that message. Combined, the 17 participating Web sites, which include rival sites such as Washingtonpost.com, NYTimes.com, Yahoo!, and Excite@Home, as well as more narrowly targeted sites such as NetNoir and Oxygen Media, reach 85 percent of the U.S. Internet audience, Markle estimates. In July, at least 49 million people visited the sites participating in the cyberdebate, according to Media Metrix.
The participating sites were found by researchers to be the most visited for political information during the major party conventions this summer. They are also the sites undecided voters are most likely to frequent, unlike true political junkies, who typically go directly to the campaign Web sites.
The long list of participating Web sites highlights the public-service element of the cyberdebate. "One of the things that I hope comes out of this is an example of how the Internet can play a meaningful role in our political process," says Jonah Seiger, co-founder and chief strategist of Mindshare Internet campaigns, which is handling the technological end of the cyberdebate.
"If it works as advertised, I think it could end up giving our readers a little bit more insight into the thinking of the candidates," adds Spitzer of USAToday.com. "If it works as advertised, it could be more interesting to see the campaigns questioning each other, rather than dealing straight to the press all the time."
But given the campaigns' lukewarm reaction to date, Spitzer doubts the cyberdebate will entirely fulfill its promise. He predicts, "I think they're going to be very, very conservative."