Journalism has breached a new barrier of sorts. When the now infamous Tiger Woods auto accident story broke over Thanksgiving last year, news pioneer Jimmy Lai, who owns leading newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan, deployed a new technology for creating reenactments using computer-generated avatars.
Lai’s Next Media produced the news segment shown below, which blends real footage with analysis by the news anchors and the computer-generated reenactment. The avatars are created using actors who mimic the actions and mouth the words from first-hand accounts of the incident.
Is it acceptable for us as journalists, if we cannot get first-hand video or the rights to use video, to create our own computer-generated video version of what happened? Yes, says Gordon Crovitz, one of my favorite commentators at The Wall Street Journal. Crovitz used to write the “Rule of Law” column for WSJ and now writes more often under the “Information Age” column on media and technology topics.
In a column that appeared December 13, 2009, Crovitz cites precedents for news reenactments:
Before the era of photography in newspapers and magazines, enterprising editors used similar creative license to help readers imagine how news might have happened. The Illustrated London News, founded in 1842, used woodcut-like drawings to depict dramatic scenes, everything from sightings of royals to natural calamities to lynchings of robbers during California’s Gold Rush.
News reenactments have been around in many formats for a long time, from artists’ sketches of courtroom dramas to computer animations showing the last moments of USAir flight 1549 as it dipped into the Hudson River a year ago. It’s legal for journalists to help us visualize the news. We now have a new tool that helps us get around the lack of video or the unwillingness of celebrities to explain what happened.
Just as the movie “Avatar” has demonstrated the storytelling power of using animations rather than actors, so our news is about to become more compelling and, hopefully, more accurate. What do you think about using avatars in news?