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News reports in Taiwan have been accompanied by computer generated videos depicting possible events around the Tiger Woods saga. Here, a pregnant Elin Nordegren waits at home while Tiger hangs out with another woman.
News reports in Taiwan have been accompanied by computer generated videos depicting possible events around the Tiger Woods saga. Here, a pregnant Elin Nordegren waits at home while Tiger hangs out with another woman.

Woods video a hit with viewers, a fail with experts Add to ...

The saga of Tiger Woods' SUV crash and subsequent revelations of alleged infidelity has been a hit in the old and new media. But thanks to the golfer's worldwide fame, some of the reporting on the story has been presented in ways unfamiliar to North American audiences.

One such example came in the form of a short, computer-generated reenactment starring Mr. Woods and his wife Elin Nordegren and purportedly giving an inside look at what transpired before and during the crash.

Produced by Next Media, which owns gossip magazines in Hong Kong and Taiwan and frequently creates animated shorts to cover local news events, the videos went viral and spread rapidly across the Web.

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It's an approach to news that audiences may be seeing more of, says Alfred Hermida, who teaches new media journalism at the University of British Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

"The technology to do it wasn't even there 10 years ago," Mr. Hermida said. "You're getting to a stage where the animation is getting life-like enough ... it's relatively easy and straightforward to do."

Mr. Hermida says that while he found the medium fascinating, there was a fatal flaw with the Woods video as a work of journalism - it was mostly speculation and involves precious little reporting.

"It's not so much of a reenactment. It's more of an interpretation - it's what [they]think happened," said Mr. Hermida.

The video shows the couple fighting in their home before Mr. Woods storms out and drives off in his vehicle. However, nothing leading up to the crash - from the depicted argument, complete with thought balloons, to Ms. Nordegren woodenly chasing the SUV with a golf club - has been verified as fact.

If you put a visual representation in someone's head, it will stick. We're just wired that way. Kristian Hammond, Director of North Western University's Center for Innovation in Technology, Media and Journalism

"I was kind of horrified. It's really no better than guesswork," said Larry Cornies, Chair in Communications Ethics at Ryerson University. "It was all fill-in-the-blanks. That's not how we do journalism."

Mr. Cornies and Mr. Hermida say that the CGI technology can be a real benefit to journalism when done right. It allows news organizations to show events, like the wrath of a tsunami or a plane landing on the Hudson River, where cameras and reporters can't safely be.

"Reenactments can be really quite useful, if they're backed up with good facts," said Mr. Cornies.

Good facts don't seem to be a high priority for Next Media. They followed up the video with two more.

While the apparent recording of Tiger Woods on Jaimee Grubbs' voice mail and the golfer's own apology for certain "transgressions" has fuelled rumours of infidelity, there has been no confirmation.

Even so, the videos, which have Taiwanese voiceovers, show the golfer chatting, flirting and visiting nearly a dozen different women.

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But it's not just the subjects of news stories that are becoming a more animated. New strides in technology mean that not only could the anchors that report the news be computer-generated - the stories themselves could be done automatically.

That's the aim of the research being done by Kristian Hammond at North Western University in Illinois.

Mr. Hammond is the Director of the university's Center for Innovation in Technology, Media and Journalism. Since 2007, he's been working on a project called News at Seven - a completely automated newscast.

"It takes the topic, collects material, edits the story, finds [additional images]... all automated," said Mr. Hammond.

The end result is an animated broadcast made up of fragments from different sources, all fit together in the way a computer thinks the story should sound. Hammond's project started by using characters from the video game Half-life 2 to build short, three-minute newscasts.

Since then, the project has evolved into allowing computers to generate movie reviews and even having two animated hosts banter back and forth about celebrity gossip, all without input from the creators.

They've also got a program, Stat Monkey, that can sift through scores and write up an account of a baseball game on par with what an Associated Press sports reporter would file.

Mr. Hammond says that the project isn't aimed at replacing real, living journalists, but as an efficient way to cover things people care about that are ignored by shrinking newsrooms, such as university or junior sports.

"We're about the notion that... in order to satisfy the needs of people...you won't be able to do it by hand," he said.

Mr. Hammond says that whether it is computer-generated reenactments or complete newscasts built by a machine, accuracy remains important. Video and pictures resonate with people in ways that audio or print do not.

"If you put a visual representation in someone's head, it will stick," he said. "We're just wired that way."

Mr. Hermida agrees, saying that while the way we create and present news may change, the basic ethics of journalism will still apply.

"I think this happens every time we have a new form of communication," he says. "We still need to follow the same rules - you want to be accurate, you want to be fair, you want to be balanced."

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