Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How does Chk-Chk-Boom change News Video online?

Let's talk Clare.

By now anyone invloved with the media in Australia should be aware of Clare “chk chk BOOM” Werbeloff and the Nine News raw video that shot her meme to super Internet stardom. Here it is for those who missed it.


I've been following the whole thing for a while now, when a colleague alerted me to the video as "best vox-pop ever". Since then we've seen claims of conspiracy, a publicity stunt, a hoax , the birth of a Facebook Fan page, even merchandise highlighting Clare's inane comments.

Jen Dudley outlined her concerns in her blog (a little tongue-in-cheek I suspect) that it seemed we just couldn't trust what we saw on YouTube anymore, that every meme needed to be viewed through a far more cynical filter looking for the hoax angle.

Now, I love a good meme as much as anyone and I love watching how these things grow and mature. I also love how the internet provides the tools for a meme to not only thrive, but also allow the means for it to be fact-checked and verified almost as easily. But let's step away from the viral nature of this video, or the absurd celebrity status of Ms Werbeloff, and instead believe that this clip was a purposefully created news story, shot and edited by one of this nation's more credible news resources. If so, it highlights some serious shortcomings in the way broadcasters can make news video available online.

The thing that bothered me from the start was the quality of the vox pops. Quite apart from the less than eloquent Clare and her fanciful retelling of the events, the entire story is related to us through the drunken rantings of apparent onlookers who want to make sure we realise that, whatever actually happened, there was "no need for it, eh" and that the gun was "awesome"! We do get a 10 second slab at the end of the clip showing police grappling someone on the road, as if to prove the validity of everything we've just been subjected to for the last minute and a half.

But where's the police statement? Where's the legitimate witness? Where's the obligatory police officer standing there spouting cop language to verify what happened? ("This evening at approximately 2am a male person of middle eastern appearance was allegedly shot by a second male person...) It beggars belief that a news organisation with the history and reputation of Channel 9 could have dropped the ball so badly on this one.

TV News is, by nature, pretty formulaic and any camera operator with some experience will know they're shooting for the nightly news. That means meeting certain expectations on what content is required to create a standard TV news story. To believe there was no official and credible evidence available to verify the story is a little concerning (What's more concerning is the notion this clip may have been made more "internet friendly" by removing its news credibility and turning it into entertainment instead).

Now, TV newsrooms have lived for years using an overnight skeleton crew of single operator camera guys and girls, either staff or stringers, just shooting footage of events while the rest of us sleep. They know there's plenty of time to get the facts together before the footage is finally seen by the public in an update or bulletin the next day. And that workflow is still valid in the environment we have in Australia where broadcast newsrooms are still cautious about "scooping" themselves, letting the footage out before the big money maker at 5/6/7pm. But if you're going to engage with the net enough to warrant a specific "9 Raw" watermark you have to think some thought has been put into this venture. If so, should we see newsrooms putting journalists on graveyard shifts to add editorial verification before this sort of content is put online? Or, and here's a crazy idea, should camera operators and editors be properly trained in editorial guidelines, just the same as journalists, so they can make informed editorial decisions on the run rather than expect they'll pick it up as they go? Camera operators are already having to ask questions in press conferences where a newsroom is unable to get a journo out in time, so why not train them properly?

Of course (stepping down from my high horse and getting back into my cynical suit), despite Occam's Razor it's difficult not to believe the whole thing was specifically created by someone to be what it is; tasteless, vulgar, and as entertaining as a car crash.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

[Edit - NineMSN's blog response to the hoax rumours]

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