Zacharanda and me: the true story of an accidental YouTube sensation

IT WAS on the eve of Obama’s 2008 election victory that a friend of mine, quite inadvertently, became a YouTube “sensation”.

Adam Smith, who at the time worked as a reporter for the Birmingham Mail, had flown himself to Miami to campaign for Barack Obama (because Miami was: “where the party’s at. I was hardly going to go to Ohio, was I?”). Miami, it turned out, was indeed where the party was at – and it was in the aftermath of a rather long evening that a Dutch news reporter spotted Smith – who also goes by the name Steve Zacharanda for reasons I never quite fathomed – slumped over his laptop.

In the proceeding three minutes and forty eight seconds, Smith explained that the good people of Birmingham were getting a rather slanted, not to mention intoxicated, version of events in Miami; admitted – wrongly, it turned out – to cutting and pasting his story from the BBC and, in a finale of operatic proportions, quit his job, signing off with a two-fingered salute to his bosses back home. The video was uploaded to YouTube and has amassed almost 400,000 views. It made the national media across the world. His bosses weren’t best pleased and his tenure at the paper – which was already coming to a close – didn’t last very long.

The next day I sent him a message congratulating him on his newfound stardom. He responded by asking me to lend him £30 to cover the frantic international phone calls he had made in an attempt to smooth things over with his boss (this wasn’t particularly out of character – the first time we met, in Colorado, he also convinced me to lend him the contents of my wallet).

Four years later, he has released a book detailing the events surrounding his unusual resignation, entitled Obama and Me: The Incredible True Story of a YouTube Sensation, written in a style best described as “chip-shop realism”. If it sells, it will be the first cash he’ll have made from the episode (he used his infamy to help promote a lad’s mag a few years ago but, by his own admission, spent the entire budget on a week-long drinking session and never made it past issue one).

So, Smith never made any money from YouTube – but someone did. Racking up almost 400,000 page views is worth quite a lot of money. If Smith had signed up to become a YouTube partner, he could have taken a share of the advertising revenue. Brit Howard Davies-Carr made £120,000 from a video of his kids called “Charlie Bit My Finger – Again!”, which amassed almost 400m hits and is every bit as facile as it sounds. More often than not, though, any profits are co-opted by companies who illegally copy videos, repost them and skim a share of the clicks. Other companies are on hand to print t-shirts with slogans from the latest viral hits, with no share of the profits going to the creator (alas “I’m cutting and pasting, baby!” never made it onto a t-shirt). Still, if Smith’s book sells a few copies, maybe he can pay me back that £30.

Obama and Me: The Incredible True Story of a YouTube Sensation is available now on amazon.co.uk.

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