"2008 is going to be critical, in terms of the coverage of the election," founder Arianna Huffington said. "We are working to put together the first primary online debate among candidates and working out the logistics of how this is going to happen."
An online debate would be yet another landmark since Howard Dean first used the Internet to generate buzz and accomplish serious fundraising.
"We try and look at the coverage of news less from what we believe is this obsolete left-right filter," Huffington said, referring to the spectrum of U.S. political views. Declared Democrats John Edwards and Sen. Chris Dodd have been invited and the site has had conversations with undeclared candidates, as well.
"It's obviously much more convenient for campaigns that (candidates) can be wherever they are and still be seen in streaming video" on the Internet, she said.
So how would an online debate be structured? Would it be released from the tight confines of a campaign-negotiated TV contest? Huffingon is considering having candidates field questions from an online audience and having candidates attend by video feed with journalists pitching questions from a single location.
Huffington is intent on giving her site journalistic cred. Yesterday, Huffington hired BBC journalist Elinor Shields as managing editor. In November, it hired Newsweek writer Melinda Henneberger as political editor. Henneberger is part of the online-debate effort.
"I'll be looking for us to break more news and to broaden the agenda," Shields said. That would include recruiting bloggers from hot spots like Iraq, where traditional reporting is difficult and dangerous, to help complement regular news stories, she said.