Thursday, July 26, 2007

Et tu, YouTube?

Warning: The following blog is long and contains references to other media.

I listened to a radio ad recently for a story about the much-publicized Kingston mayor's bout with the wife of a candidate for district attorney.

The lead of the story in the ad made much ado about the video ending up on YouTube.
As you may know from reading our blogs, we posted it -- we had to, after all, since it's news -- -- so I was confused about YouTube being part of the story.

The lead of the radio station story on its Web site reads: "KINGSTON, NY (2007-07-16) Kingston Mayor James Sottile and the wife of Democratic DA candidate Jonathan Sennett got into an argument. She punched him, they threw drinks at each other. And it's all on YouTube. ..."

The audio story ends with this when mentioning the YouTube posting: "Sometimes the context is lost without an objective reporter," which is something I can agree with.

Which also is one reason why I posted on the YouTube page that the Freeman had the whole story. And If you click on the link about the person who posted it, you'll also get a link to the Freeman Web site. The "context" was provided by Political Editor Hugh Reynolds with help from Freeman Reporter Paul Kirby and City Editor Jeremy Schiffres -- all of them veteran journalists.

Alas, in retrospect, that might not have been enough.

Other local media and even a New York City daily made note of YouTube in their stories as well, and none of them mentioned who had posted it or why. And nobody bothered to contact the person who posted it (I would have gotten an e-mail, since that person was me.) Add to that the fact that I know most of the people who worked on those stories, and you've got yourself a confused editor.

I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. There is only so much time you can spend on a single story, and some information is not gathered (Follow up stories take care of that). Besides, who posted the video is obviously peripheral to the story itself. I also don't think that our competitors would've been too happy saying the Freeman was the medium that posted the story online. In return, you might have noticed, I mention no news organizations by name (you know who they are anyway).

Notice also that the Freeman Web site -- like every other Web site -- has the same global reach as YouTube (though, obviously, not as many visitors). So posting it exclusively on our Web site, which we can't do yet, had the same potential to reach as many people.

We saw it as a tool, especially as the "The video speaks for itself" quotes began piling up. We even quipped about giving our competitors a free bone (after all, they could have gotten the video themselves -- like the New York City network did -- and post it on their Web sites, if they have the capability). The pack, by the way, was happy to chew the bone. Most of them link to the YouTube page.

The security camera video was a primary source. The Freeman got a copy, and we put it online.

So, again, why was YouTube part of stories by other media?

Because, I want to believe, the reporters who worked on the story probably thought it was a random citizen who posted the video ("Broadcast Yourself" is the site's motto). One paper even editorialized about being "leery about how the video ... ended up on You Tube so quickly." That speaks to an unwritten newsroom fear about unreliable reporting, (you may not believe me, but journalists are professionals --constantly learning and with an understanding of the written word, ethics, history and all the other goodies formal training provides).

A more cynical me thinks a lot of journalists are still struggling with the fact that newspapers are evolving, and video and audio are becoming part of what we do.

But an even more cynical me thinks the whole YouTube mention was a way for other media to link to the video without having to get it themselves or pay lip service to their competitor.

Think about it. Rework the lead on the radio story:

"KINGSTON, NY (2007-07-16) Kingston Mayor James Sottile and the wife of Democratic DA candidate Jonathan Sennett got into an argument. She punched him, they threw drinks at each other. And it's all on the Freeman's Web site."

"Reporters do reporting" -- no matter the medium --is not a story.