From Sr Abhaya to Tiger Woods, journalism is informed guessing

Welcome to the new world of Maybe Journalism — a best guess at the news as it might well have been, rendered as a video game and built on a bed of pure surmise.
A computer-generated "news report" of the Tiger Woods SUV crash — complete with a robotic-looking simulation of Mr. Woods's wife chasing him with a golf club — has become a top global online video of the moment, perhaps offering a glimpse at the future of journalism, tabloid division. (No matter that the police said she was using the club to release Mr. Woods from the car.)

The minute-and-a-half-long digitally animated piece was created by Next Media, a Hong Kong-based company with gossipy newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The video is one of more than 20 the company releases a day, often depicting events that no journalist actually witnessed — and that may not have even occurred.

The animation unit, which works out of the same building as the company's Taiwanese newspaper, Apple Daily, has dozens of programmers, designers, animators, even actors on its staff, said Daisy Li, who is responsible for scripting the videos.

"I am awestruck by this," the MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. He was both appalled by the video and convinced that it was a harbinger of the future. "Yes," he wrote, "this will be done by somebody, in this country, within six months." The Tiger Woods animation video has achieved global fame in the week since it went online. There have been more than 1.7 million views on YouTube alone.

The ethical pitfalls in the videos are hard to miss. Ken A. Bode, a former national political correspondent for NBC News, corrected a reporter who called the Woods video a "re-enactment." "That's a creation," he said. "How does any Taiwanese journalist know what happened between Tiger Woods and his wife?"

Ms. Li, who manages those who write the scripts for the animated stories, said she believed that viewers understood what they were seeing. "Readers can differentiate that it is an illustration," she said. "All of it was based on what was reported on the wires, on other Web sites."  Apple Daily was introduced to Taiwan in 2003 by the tycoon Jimmy Lai, who publishes an older and more famous Apple Daily in Hong Kong.

Ms Li said the animation project had been more than two years in the planning, part of Mr. Lai's vision to make news more relevant to young people. "There was a lot of discussion of the future of newspapers; the print version of newspapers is shrinking," she said, adding, "The young people don't like to read the newspaper."

Gert K. Nielsen, a Danish news graphic consultant, said he considered himself part of a minority that viewed the story in a news illustration more important than getting every detail correct.

"If you don't know if the neighbor's car is red or black, that shouldn't stop you from doing a graphic," he said. But with its made-up story and use of "thought balloons" to describe what Ms. Nordegren was thinking, he said, "I think that the guys at Apple Daily are too crazy even for my taste."

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