The idea for ABC's I-Caught, a newsmagazine devoted to behind-the-scenes Web tales, was born last fall after ABC's 20/20 looked into how Web videos can go "viral" and spread across the globe.
Most of us take fleeting looks at such fare on websites like YouTube, "and you either cringe or laugh and it's over," says I-Caught anchor Bill Weir. "But if you peel back the layers, there is so much interesting drama that goes on."
I-Caught, which airs over the next five weeks, "is a contextual journalistic magazine where the (Web) clip is just a jumping-off point. Then we look at who shot it, who posted it, what happened to them when they did, and what Internet fame means."
Tonight, Weir talks to a police officer who, during a chat to kids about gun safety, accidentally shot himself in the leg. Caught on video, which quickly spread across the Web, "he's fighting to get his name back and finding out just how impossible that is," Weir says.
He also talks to Merry Miller, a businesswoman whose flub during an ABC News tryout interview with actress Holly Hunter "has made her the laughingstock of the news business," Weir says. "She is absolutely devastated and trying to put a brave face on, but it takes on a life of its own."
Weir traveled to Africa to report the story behind a battle, caught on video, between lions, crocodiles and buffalo, which has been viewed online more than 7 million times. ABC's Don Dahler reports on citizens using the Web to help police break cases, while correspondent Chris Connelly looks at elaborate wedding dances that couples choreograph, knowing they'll end up on the Web and be compared with others.
As mainstream media struggle to contain costs and bridge the gap between them and new media, it's no surprise that ABC has launched I-Caught, says Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "This is essentially secondhand reporting on material that's already made it somewhere into the media bloodstream," he says, making it "reasonably inexpensive."
He notes "a long-running strain through the American infotainment media that involves an element of voyeurism," starting with afternoon talk shows in which people revealed their problems to a studio audience and viewers at home, which then evolved into the reality TV craze.
"So in a way, these videos and the pursuit of the real story behind them may simply represent the latest evolutionary stage of this trend in which everyone can be famous, or infamous, for at least a day," Jurkowitz says.
There is a certain entertainment value to I-Caught fare. And part of ABC News' website is being devoted to eliciting I-Caught videos from viewers for use on future editions.
Weir says that when he was approached, producers assured him that this was journalism, not a new version of America's Funniest Home Videos.
Good thing, Weir says: "With all due respect to Bob Saget, I had no interest in saying, 'Here's our top five dumb criminals of the week.' "