Old ethics and new media

Let’s say some local yahoos decide to rent a truck, bolt a giant model of a penis to the front (complete with squirting water!) and festoon the sides of the truck with messages so crude and offensive that I’m not going to quote them.

Let’s say they decide to enter the truck as a float in a parade that is attended by hundreds of families and children.

Let’s say, further, that the people on the float decide it would be a fun idea to throw condoms at the crowd.

Of course, you already know this is not a hypothetical.

There are many ways of looking at the fallout from the “Horribles” parade in Beverly Farms, which featured three floats — including the one I just described — that made fun of the Gloucester High School pregnancy story.

Here’s another angle: the responsibility of community journalists, who are no longer armed just with a notebook and a pen but with video cameras as well.

The Beverly Citizen, a GateHouse Media paper, is in the spotlight because of a video that it posted showing all the highlights and lowlights, including some close-ups of the aforementioned penis and the signs.

Does the video go too far? I’ll take a cue from the Citizen itself. The news story, by Bobby Gates, is almost prissy in its description of the controversy. Not a single offensive sign is quoted from. As for the float, the story rather clinically refers to a “large, realistically shaped phallic symbol spraying water from the front of a truck.”

Even more out of sync with the video is a post on the Citizen’s blog that asserts the floats “went over the line” by mocking teenage girls. The signs? “And I won’t even go into the signs on the floats, which were lewd at best.” Well, OK. But the blog post was written by “dmacalpine.” And the video was shot by Dan Mac Alpine, whose camera hovered so seductively over the very signs that he (or maybe it was his doppelgänger?) didn’t think he could quote in his newspaper’s blog.

I’m not sure what the lesson is here. I do know that quick-and-cheap video is posing a challenge to community journalists, who are finding themselves embroiled in controversy for shooting footage of subjects that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if they merely described them in writing. That was the case at another GateHouse paper, the Somerville Journal, a few months ago, when its video of the Naked Quad Run at Tufts University sparked discussion and even outrage.

The current, situation, though, is different, as the Citizen is traveling much further in its video than it dares go in its written description. I’m not sure what to make of that.

Let me go back to my original question: Does the video go too far? I think it does. I haven’t checked, but I am confident that neither the squirting penis nor the worst of the signs made it on to any of the local television newscasts. I know that both were left on the cutting-room floor in a news video I watched at the Fox 25 Web site, and it’s probably safe to say that no one is going to go beyond our friends at Fox.

Except, it seems, the Beverly Citizen.

Look, it happened. Hundreds of people saw it. Hundreds more heard about it. There’s no sense in pretending otherwise. But if they didn’t think they should quote from the signs, then they shouldn’t have showed them in the video. As for the penis — well, let just say I think the written description was sufficient.

The folks at GateHouse are not bad people. They’re hard-working journalists trying to find their way in a news landscape that’s changing by the day. I’d rather see them taking too many chances than too few. I’m neither horrified nor offended by what they did. But I do think they made the wrong call in this case.

Update: The Salem News runs a front-page photo of the penis-bearing truck in its print edition. But unless you’ve seen the video, it’s impossible to figure out what you’re looking at. Here’s the News’ story.

About these ads

42 thoughts on “Old ethics and new media

  1. Anonymous

    Just as a side note, I’m willing to bet that the idiots who thought up this float are the same ones who, for a couple of years in a row, entered a racist float mocking Hispanics under the guise of “satirizing” illegal immigration, complete with signs mocking the Hispanic worker at the neighborhood Dunkin’ donuts. I’m pretty sure that no parade officials quit because of that float.Hypocrites.

  2. David Rogers

    Hey Dan,That was a pretty scathing opinion piece you posted. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing but you sure didn’t hold back. I do think if you’re going to take someone to task, then you should have a clear idea of what they should’ve done instead. Saying that you’re not sure what the lesson is, isn’t enough. As much as the video aspect of my job has left me with questions, we do need them to attract new readers. I think we’re all in agreement that if we don’t increase online sales revenue, the print product is pretty much going to be toast (if it isn’t already). What would you have done? How would you have handled the Beverly situation? And what do you suggest for the future of videos.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    David:Scathing? Good grief. More like kid’s gloves. As for what I would have done, well, you know, you’ve got to read to the bottom:”Look, it happened. Hundreds of people saw it. Hundreds more heard about it. There’s no sense in pretending otherwise. But if they didn’t think they should quote from the signs, then they shouldn’t have showed them in the video. As for the penis — well, let just say I think the written description was sufficient.”There you go.

  4. Anne

    Odd conclusion, Dan. This was part of a July 4 parade down the main street of a suburban town. Floats sandwiched between kids on bikes and marching Minutemen. And it should not have been videoed and posted??!?Anne EisenmengerVice President of Audience DevelopmentGateHouse Media New England

  5. David Rogers

    Ahhh, but you answered but a mere part of what I was asking. I’m also talking about the whole video issue we as an industry is facing, not just one story. You know the pressures we’re facing as well as anyone and I would think you’d have a strong opinion on that too. p.s. I wish you wouldn’t imply I was lazy, you hurt my feelings. :(

  6. Larz

    Methinks Gatehouse would do well to post a sentry. They need to remember that the material they put up becomes part of their own public image. If they’re determined to broadcast such material, at least they should caption it with the people responsible, both for the float and the video. Don’t bet on it, though.Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Anne —Thank you for checking in. It’s all about standards in general, and whether there are (or should be) a difference between newspaper standards and video standards.Since you’re here, I have a few questions for you, the answers to which will greatly clarify the issue.1. Would GateHouse post a video featuring full-frontal nudity on the grounds that the person in question was standing in the public square with dozens of people watching him (or her)? The Tufts Naked Quad Run video, with everyone back to, suggests that you would not.2. What about fatal car accidents? As you know, newspapers do not traditionally run photos of dead bodies, even when they are in a public place with dozens of onlookers. How about in a news video?3. Here’s the crucial one. Do you think the Beverly Citizen, in its next print edition, should run a photo taken from the video showing the giant penis as it is shooting water? Should it run photos of the raunchiest signs, or quote from them in full? If not, why not?I look forward to your answers. And I hope, merely by asking these questions, you will see that this is not as simple as you make it seem.I also pose these questions with all due respect. These are not easy issues, and by no means do I want to come off as harshly critical, though I do think a mistake was made in this particular case. But as I said, I’m neither horrified nor offended by the video.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    David: Regarding the larger issue — training; clear standards; ongoing discussion. Are these things happening anywhere?

  9. Gard Trask

    This whole issue, as bad as it is, is further exacerbated by Beverly Citizens Senior Editor Dan MacAlpine who shot the video, and edited it (per his own admission) to maintain the phallus sculpture I know because I spoke to him on Monday. His defense ran the gambit of ‘free speech’ and ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ to ‘the girls dancing on the float in short dresses were worse than a plastic piece of pipe’.No. No they were not.Which would you have a harder time explaining to a 8 year old? Girls with beach balls under their dresses, or an 8 foot long male organ squirting water.I asked; does he not ‘edit’ the photo’s that go into the paper? He responded that of course they do. Some sports shots of wrestling, swimming, or gymnastics may not be appropriate.Why then I asked why he did not use a bit more discretion in posting what he did to YouTube, I suggested he should have left more of the video on the electronic cutting room floor. He stated he did edit a lot out of the original video, and left in what he thought was important.The role of editor is to ensure accuracy, legitimacy, and balance. It is also to maintain some civility. If the local strip club had a topless car wash, is that newsworthy, and would topless pictures be acceptable?This was a public parade. On a public street. Not a private invitation party.Leave aside the subject of the parody. Take away any discussion of Gloucester or Beverly Farms, elitism, or who are the victims and who are the culprits. There is never, ever, and acceptable time to parade a 8 foot penis sculpture squirting liquid on the city streets. There is never, ever, an appropriate time to throw condoms at the feet of 6 year olds who are expecting candy.There are community standards, and not only did the float organizers cross them, so did the Senior Editor for not being more judicious in editing the video before posting it for national attention. If Mr. MacAlpine is so sincere in keeping the video footage, he should have had the fortitude to print the same pictures of the “Member-mobile” and graphic posters.

  10. Ari Herzog

    Rather than questioning the ethics of Beverly Citizen editor Dan MacAlpine and whether he was right or wrong in exercising his freedom of expression, freedom of press, call it what you will, I wonder if Beverly, Salem, and Gloucester residents would be equally up in arms if this parade occurred in Provincetown, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, or Paris, even, where penis floats are more common and attitudes are more liberal.And, what is the so-called crime we are debating? A newspaper editor shooting a video, the editor posting the video on a video sharing website, or the editor posting the video on the newspaper’s website?For all I know, other people may have shot similar photos and videos of the parade. The odds are great that someone with a cellphone or a digital camera could easily have shot a few minutes of a moving parade.If MacAlpine didn’t shoot it, would people be complaining if someone else did? How many local media professionals, except bloggers, monitor YouTube, Twitter, and other social media sites?One more question: How do you respond to Margery Eagan who praises the video and the float itself?

  11. Anonymous

    Newspapers censor what they show and write about gay pride parades all the time. They could have done the same here.

  12. Kris Olson

    Dan,Isn’t it possible that my colleague Dan MacAlpine’s mistake, if there was one, was not posting some sort of prominent disclaimer saying, “WARNING: Video contains graphic imagery and content,” or something of that nature?To me, your analogy to TV news is imperfect. The broadcast, to me, is more akin to my weekly Beverly Citizen. I don’t know for sure what lies in the next film clip or on the next page in the paper, so I am trusting in the judgment of the producer/editor not to subject me unwillingly to something that is going to shock or horrify me.But watching a YouTube video requires an affirmative action: clicking the “play” button in the little window. If you are an adult, you are duly warned, and you choose to click on it anyway, that is up to you.This may be an imprudent example, but how do you reconcile this blog post with your position on the Daniel Pearl execution video, which if I am not mistaken, you defended as something that, because it was “news,” should be out in the public domain?That the Beverly parade is far less gruesome and horrific only makes my point, which is that not publishing the video is an excessive solution, while posting it with a disclaimer salvages the “good” in it (i.e., the news value) while minimizing the harm of the bad.This is one of myriad small-town issues where, absent video proof, folks will write revisionist histories to suit their arguments. For example, in this case, those wrapping themselves in the First Amendment are conveniently overlooking how outrageous the actual content was and how “captive” (and, in some cases, how young) the audience was. At the very least, the video gets everyone on the same page as to what actually occurred, which to me is a pretty valuable service that enables thinking adults in the community to decide how best to address the situation.

  13. Anonymous

    I think we are seeing here what could fairly be called the “Terri Carlin” effect. (an ironic surname to be sure).Carlin, as you’ll recall, is the Tennessee woman who sued CBS because of the “outrage, anger, embarrasment and serious injury” she suffered at the sight of Janet Jackson’s nipple during the Super Bowl. The absurdity of expecting a broadcast network to shield one’s eyes from a sight they could easily avoid with the click of a remote is now being applied to multimedia. Not only does a reader have the choice of whether to read Gates’ story, but even after having opened that window, they STILL have a choice as to whether they wish to load and view the video. This is not a billboard on the side of a public road. Two conscious decisions must be made and actions taken on the part of the consumer before he or she can view the video. This is not something one accidentally “happens” upon in their day to day living. It is reasonable to expect a certain amount of responsibility be taken on the part of the audience.If you follow Ms. Carlin’s logic, however, it is GateHouse’s job to act as babysitter and “shield” the poor, innocent Web surfers who may be “forced” to watch this video during their search for, what, Lottery results?Perhaps a warning of some kind, like “This video may be offensive to some viewers” could be posted above the embed. But it would be a gross act of indecency to ban such videos solely on the basis of taste or fear of backlash. You don’t show video or photos of car crash bodies or murder victims out of respect to those who have just endured a monumental tragedy. Teen pregnancy, whatever the socioeconomic ramifications, hardly qualifies as a monumental tragedy. The story was about floats in the parade and regardless of what details were included in the text, the video was inarguably germaine to the topic at hand. And to anyone who would question how one explains the images in that video to an 8 year old, I would ask: Why would an 8 year old be watching that video in the first place? Supervision begins at home, not at the offices of the Beverly Citizen.

  14. Dan Kennedy

    Kris: You make some good points. I think Mrs. Media Nation is leaning more to your position. I still think that by cutting just 20 or 30 seconds from it, MacAlpine would still have a video the entire country would be talking about, and without any need for a disclaimer or warning.As for the Daniel Pearl analogy, remember that the video had already been posted online and was being eagerly downloaded by anti-Semites and aficionados of sick content. The Phoenix did not make it available; it was already available. Rather, it recontextualized it. Here is what I wrote for Nieman Reports.Thank you for doing such a good job of providing an alternative point of view.Ari: A local community newspaper depends on branding and reputation. I think any reasonable person would expect to get very different things by searching for “Beverly” at YouTube, on the one hand, and checking out the Beverly Citizen’s Web site on the other.I simply disagree with Margery Eagan. In fact, I disagree with her more vehemently about the social good of shaming the Gloucester teenagers than I do about her take on the video.

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Bill: Oh, my. I’m not sure I’d know it was a penis costume without the caption.

  16. Kris Olson

    Not to come back at you after you gave me “props,” but it seems you are saying your position might have been different if a Beverly Farms’ resident’s homemade video had already been in wide circulation on YouTube. To me, in this day and age, the mere strong possibility that such a video exists (how many cell phones were in attendance?) says to me that Dan MacAlpine was well within his rights (and perhaps had a duty) to “recontextualize” the content preemptively by embedding it in a measured, thoughtful news story, rather than let it stand on its own on YouTube.At any rate, I agree wholeheartedly with your statement that such topics should be the subject of continual discussion and training, and that clear standards should be established (to the extent that’s possible).

  17. Howard Owens

    I’m glad to see members of the GHMNE staff weighing in. It’s better to engage in these sorts of debates than letting the debate rage without our participation.FWIW: To whatever extent handing out easy-to-use, easily available video cameras to reporters and editors has enabled these sorts of video reports to be posted to YouTube, I’ll take the blame. Critics of this are free to direct their rage at me.It’s worth noting that all GHS papers use YouTube for video distribution. There has been some minor implication that Dan MacAlpine posted this to YouTube for reasons other than it’s just standard GHS practice.Also, it’s a feature of our training that there is a benefit to capture an event by just letting the video roll. There is a preference to let the video speak for itself rather than impose a reporter’s voice over it.Question as you will the inclusion of certain aspects of the event in the video, it is far more preferable and ethical, I would argue, to let the video speak for itself rather than impose the sensationalistic reporter’s (or anchor’s) voice we’ve seen on television about this event. The television coverage I’ve seen has been rather disgusting, even while being less explicit.You raise good questions, as always, Dan. To the point of how the stories were written vs. how the video was presented, I can’t speak for the journalists involved, but I can imagine myself making the same sort of editorial decisions. I would be much more comfortable letting the video speak for itself than writing explicitly about it. In once case, the video is just recording the truth of what the lens sees; in the other, the reporter is supplying the context and the interpretation, which makes the writer much more culpable in the presentation. It’s more of a personal act to write about than than to tape it, and any pretense to “objective reporting” in writing is just that — pretense.So, with hindsight and hundreds of miles between me and the actual events, I’m with the GHMNE staff on how they handled this both in writing and video.As to the hypotheticals you raise for Anne to answer, I would argue that it’s pointless to engage in that debate in a forum such as this. Weighing in on those topics publicly would possibly commit editorial staff to future editorial decisions that can only be made in context of actual events. No hypothetical can possibly capture all of the nuances of a real event, which is part of the reason such actual real events as this lend themselves to robust — and warranted — debate.That said, you raise fine hypotheticals that would be perfectly suitable for a brown-bag discussion among local editors and reporters about “what would we do if …” this would help them be better prepared should some sort of similar issue arise. This is always a good exercise for journalists.And to this point: Good job GateHouse Media New England, both on this video and the Tufts video. This is what we need to do online — use video to quickly and easily capture actual events that are important to the community. The fact that these videos have raised such discussion supports the idea that reporters should be out there recording these events for the public to think about and debate. For good or ill, these events are significant community events and shouldn’t be sugar coated.I know I didn’t get in this business to hand out lollipops.And tangential to this point: One reason traditional journalists are losing trust with audiences is a general prudishness about reporting honestly such controversial issues. If we want journalism to survive in any manner that will allow us to continue important watchdog roles, we need to get over this prudishness. We need to reestablish credibility, and we don’t do that by ignoring what’s really happening because it doesn’t fit old values or we’re afraid of offending some segment of the audience.That doesn’t mean no-holds barred and just let it all hang out … but we can’t get away with being prudes. Not if we want to stay relevant.

  18. Dan Kennedy

    Howard and Kris: I’m heartened that this has turned into such a productive discussion when it easily could have deteriorated into something else. I’d welcome a chance to be part of a brown-bag discussion, even if it was just to listen.

  19. Steve Brown

    I think this thread highlights an important fact that I have not seen discussed in great detail, and that is the misconception that anyone with a video camera, or video phone is automatically a video journalist. As newspapers use more and more video in their “new media” they more often than not overlook the “craft” of video storytelling. They instead post raw, amateurish footage that is not easy to watch (the Beverly parade video is a fine example.) A newspaper editor would not allow a complete, verbatim transcript of a hearing or meeting be printed as a substitute for a reporter’s written account of said hearing or meeting. They should apply the same standards to the video they post under their masthead.

  20. Anonymous

    I wonder why it wouldn’t be possible to link to two versions of the video, one fairly heavily edited but with enough to give the sense of the general attitude and behavior, and the full video but with a content warning, as has been suggested.Seems to me the community ought to have a chance to see the whole ugly spectacle in order to debate the issues involved knowledgeably, but I’m sympathetic to the idea that it’s also pretty raw stuff for a community newspaper.The great thing about the Internet is that it allows news organizations to give readers multiple choices in coverage. Why not take advantage of that?

  21. Gard Trask

    To Kris Olsen comments …. The original story that aired with the video was pointing out the satire in the parade. There was no outrage at the subject matter, no vilification of the obscene word, images, or sculpture by Mr. MacAlpine until much later in his blog. Only then did he shake his electronic fist with any moral indignation and rage.If he is going to now wrap himself in the ‘freedom of speech’ or ‘the public’s right to know’ flag, then he cannot claim a double standard about what pictures or descriptions appear in print, and how they can differ in graphic detail of what appears on the video.If Joe Public posted the video, that would be one thing. Mr. MacAlpine shot it, edited it to leave in specific images and posted the video as support of what was originally a whimsical “oh those wacky Farms people”.Only now is there any outrage. He crossed a line on video he would not dare dance across in print.

  22. Kris Olson

    The only thing I would add, Howard, is that sometimes it’s not the journalist who is the prude but, rather, because he or she has worked in particular community for a decade or so, he or she knows that a significant segment of his or her readership is easy to offend.Note: I didn’t suggest letting such folks “carry the day” and provide an excuse for not posting the video at all, but I do think these people would appreciate disclaimers so they can make an informed decision about whether or not to let the YouTube player roll.I agree, Howard, that every situation is different, but I also don’t think Dan’s hypotheticals are anything to fear responding to.Just my opinion, but in the first instance, I would advocate not posting full frontal nudity (saving the footage instead for the office holiday party). Seriously though, there would be little if any additional news value in “full frontal” as opposed to the angle at which the Tufts video was shot, which was sufficient to tell the story (and generate plenty of views).Again, news value is the key on the car accident. I don’t need to see a grisly corpse — if you tell me so-and-so died in a car accident, I’ll believe you. Whatever minimal news value there would be in showing such images would be far outweighed by the devastating harm to family and friends (again, in my opinion).What makes the parade story different is that it is the very content of the signs and the imagery of the floats that is causing controversy, leading judges to quit, city councilors and the Gloucester mayor to weigh in, etc. The video is particularly helpful to figure out what the fuss is all about.

  23. Bill Toscano

    That’s funny, Dan.That was exactly the thought I had when I looked at those pictures while I was getting the URL.;)

  24. Ken Coulton

    I’m sorry, but what Gatehouse does is NOT community journalism. Its reporters do not live in the community, do not know or care about community issues, and do not reflect community standards.Gatehouse runs weak newspapers in dozens and dozens of cities and towns according to a formula that shuffles reporters in and out in assembly-line fashion, and promotes cheap, shallow, cookie-cutter content over real journalism.There is nothing “community” about it, and any resemblance to journalism is purely coincidental.

  25. Ari Herzog

    Gard: You claim that a newspaper editor armed with a video camera is held to a higher standard (due to the branding and reputation that Dan related to earlier) than Joe Public.So let me ask you how/if the current context would be different if Joe Public shot the video, and rather than selling it to the National Enquirer, either sold it or provided it to MacAlpine or any other newspaper editor; and further, suppose said editor linked to the non-proprietary video from the story or from the WickedLocal, etc blog.Moreover, what if the video was not of a satirical parade but of a person dressed up as a penis as part of a national festival? For instance, look to Japan and Kanamara Matsuri, the annual phallic fertility festival as reported and photographed by Reuters.In response to Howard about newspaper credibility in the technological age, I point you to a Washington Post story from October 2006 claiming that YouTube is a threat and a tool.As proof, look at last spring’s report out of England’s The Guardian on the BBC and YouTube partnership to offer branded videos.Online media and its resources change daily, and I think it’s fair to surmise, copyright protection aside, that YouTube is more of a tool than a threat. I hadn’t realized GMNE posted videos on YouTube, but I’ve since seen the northunit’s contributions and they are informative and entertaining.Oh, and if you didn’t like the aforementioned penis at the graduation, how about this YouTube video about a skating penis at last year’s Seattle Gay Pride parade. Were Seattle parents, attending that parade with their kids, shielding the children’s eyes for fear of asking the question, “Mom, what is that pink thing?”

  26. Anonymous

    I’m personally glad the paper published the raw video because I wanted to be able to see the float for myself and make my own judgment. I think it’s a great example of how the web can be used to go beyond the print paper. That said, I can understand why a family paper wants to shield readers — who may not be expecting anything shocking, offensive — by editing the story. The paper is going to wind up in many living rooms, where children or sensitive adults could see it. But to see the video, you have to click on it — after already seeing a story warning that the float was offensive. (That said, I agree with the comment that it would have been helpful if the video itself had a warning at the beginning, just in case.)

  27. Pete Chianca

    I’m wondering if Ken has done some kind of town-by-town analysis of Gatehouse newspapers. He clearly doesn’t seem to have ever seen the Marblehead Reporter, edited by Kris Olson, who commented so eloquently above. It’s a paper that garners tremendous respect from the community it covers, not to mention the regional and national press associations, which have given it pretty much every award in the book.In the North Unit of Gatehouse New England, where the Beverly paper is located, more than half of our editorial employees have been there more than 10 years; many of the rest more than 5. As a result, even the ones who don’t live in their communities are certainly as well connected as your average resident. (That’s an understatement.) I’m sorry if Ken happens to live in a community with a less-than-stellar community paper, but it’s unfair to paint every single Gatehouse paper with the same brush.Peter ChiancaManaging Editor

  28. Kris Olson

    To Gard: It would have been improper in a news story for Dan MacAlpine or Bobby Gates to imbue the reporting with “outrage” or “vilification.” The news story should just lay out the facts, and the “outrage” should be saved for the opinion sections of the news operation — the editorial page and, yes, the blog.As for Ken C., I don’t want to give your comments undue dignity, but they are at least factually incorrect in one respect. I’ve edited my paper (The Marblehead Reporter) for seven and a half years, and the leadership of many of the other papers — including the Beverly Citizen — has been stable for a number of years. While it’s true I don’t live in the community I cover (more a question of economics than anything else), I don’t think my readers would doubt my commitment to it, and as I look around our main office in Beverly each Wednesday, I uniformly see similar dedication, even as we struggle with the challenges of particularly trying times for our industry.Thanks for the pep talk, though…

  29. alkali

    The real scandal here is the written news coverage. Neither of the stories linked in Dan’s post gives a straightforward description of what actually happened at the parade.In particular, if someone actually drives a truck with a giant squirting model penis on it in a local parade, I think it’s pretty much mandatory that the news story reporting that event use the word “penis,” and probably in the first paragraph. Making reference to a “phallic symbol” doesn’t cover it: we’re not talking about the Washington Monument here.The question of whether readers might be offended shouldn’t even come up. We are not talking about a metro columnist choosing a bad metaphor; we are talking about whether a straight news story purporting to describe an event will actually and straightforwardly describe the event, or not.I am tired of having to read newspaper stories written in code, and I certainly can’t imagine why anyone would pay for the privilege.

  30. Elliot

    In an age when we’re all drowning in a sea of information (increasingly in the video format)the role of the interpretive reporter telling us what’s important (and what isn’t) has never been more vital.In an age with increasing media competition and shrinking revenues the only thing a traditional media outlet has going for itself — besides a talented staff — is its public image, self-image, reputation and credibility. If it fails to take a mature stance and leaves in video elements that offend its audience or cheapen its coverage it can benefit from short-term Fox-style publicity, but in the long run its their brand they are tarnishing.Did the newspaper have the right to publish the video unedited? Sure. Did it harm their reputation? Clicks rate will tell. The foul parade was certainly news, but when do you stop reporting and join in the mud wrestling? Fox News might have simply interviewed the penis.

  31. Kris Olson

    One last thought for the Ken C.’s of the world: Like it or not, we have entered the era of, “Ask not what your community newspaper can do for you; ask what you can do for your community newspaper.” I have no way of knowing, but if Ken C.’s contributions to his local paper have been limited to occasional obnoxious comments on Web news stories — rather than, say, a guest column — he loses major points in my book.I challenge him — and other readers like him — to become the change they wish to see in their community newspapers. When approached respectfully, I always take constructive criticism to heart, try to follow up as best I can with good story leads and am generous in allotting guest-column space. I would be surprised if most of my colleagues did not share this view.(I’ll stop before I cause any additional historical figures to spin in their graves by bastardizing their quotes.)

  32. Richard Lodge

    Lots of good points and good debate on this topic. At the risk of “beating a dead horse to death,” as one selectman once said in a meeting, there is a big difference between the still photo on the printed page of a newspaper, distributed for general consumption in a community, and the extra hurdles that clicking on a video link from a newspaper’s Web site involve. I agree with one poster that newspapers need to get away from stilted language (“phallic symbol”? I would have written that they float depicted a penis squirting water) and write in clearer language that really does tell readers what the heck is going on. Posting most or all of the video online gives those who really want to see what all the fuss was about to go see and hear it for themselves. On what I think was a blanket statement about GateHouse reporters not caring about the communities they cover, that might be true in some cases, but most of the folks I know in this company work hard to get it right, to reflect what’s going on in the towns/cities they cover and they know their credibility is all they have in this biz. Richard Lodgeeditor of The MetroWest Daily Newsand http://www.metrowestdailynews.com

  33. Dan H

    Great exchange of ideas here. As a now-retired community editor, this really hits home.What hasn’t been said yet is that we are up against the age-old debate sparked first by Sulzberger when he claimed that his fledgling NY Times would be a perfectly objective mirror of events.Modern video should theoretically be just that, but because the entire premise is flawed, we end up in this kind of debate. The videographer started making editorial choices when he picked where to stand, when he turned on the camera, when he hit record, when he aimed it.We can disagree about how he should have exercised that “control,” but clearly the one “solution” that cannot ever work is simply saying that the lens didn’t lie or distort and so the unedited video somehow represents truth.At that point it becomes clear that he has certain gatekeeping responsibilities, some of which in my opinion he failed to discharge.-dan h

  34. Anonymous

    This is a great discussion and I’m afraid all I have to add may appear to be off-topic irreverence – Who are the people who organize this parade, why does the town allow it, why do people go and take their kids when they know it’s been offensive in previous years, and why cover it?There’s a war on, ya know.

  35. Steve

    When I first saw Dan’s post, I thought it would have been sufficient to put a disclaimer on the video links. After all, as with the Pearl video, you had to actually navigate to a page and click on a link. It’s not like a front page spread in a newspaper.Reading though the comments, I think I’ve changed my mind. After all, there was no disclaimer given before parading this mess down the main street, in front of kids and everybody. So maybe there’s no disclaimer necessary.And about the video – showing the minimally edited footage looks amateurish. After all, it probably IS shot and edited by amateurs. But this starts to blur the line between newspapers and broadcast news – it’s a professional news organization, and it’s a video clip (with professional-looking titles at the end), so my expectation is that it would be edited to near-professional quality. But that requires talents you might not expect to find at a newspaper. So maybe this creates a new requirement for community newspaper reporters – video editing talents. (Disclaimer – I work for a video editing software company.)And as to Kris’s last comment – “become the change they wish to see in their community newspaper”. OK, I agree. But do I get paid for this, or do I have to make free contributions? The economics of putting out community newspapers must be extremely tough, but does this mean that local news will ultimately become an amateur enterprise?Doing newspaper stories well is very difficult. Putting them together into a newspaper edition is pretty tough as well. But a community gets out of it what it puts into it. You get what you pay for. If no one will pay for the news, what you’ll get is amateur news.

  36. Anonymous

    Two things strike me about this.1. Looks like the Salem News really got its butt kicked on this story. They post video on all manner of subjects, but only on the second day of their coverage did they mention the truly graphic images.2. The giant phallus appears to be, shall we say, nonwhite. I guess a giant black penis is the scariest thing Beverly Farms residents can imagine. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, though.

  37. Gard Trask

    Thanks for the questions Ari. I am really enjoying the exchange ….First, if Joe Public shot and sold the video to the paper, I would expect the same level of editing and discretion on what video was posted to YouTube and what still shots were published from it in the paper. How many “Britney being Britney” photos were sold and not eventually published. The video of her leaving a car sans underwear was described in papers, but not linked.The point being, it was not Joe Public. It was shot by, edited by, posted by, and sponsored by the newspaper itself. The same standard for still photographs published in the paper should hold for a video they created. By posting the link in the on-line edition to a video the paper created itself, they are specifically directing people to it in support of the story.Second point, a cultural festival, or ‘theme’ parade such as a Gay Pride Celebration bring certain expectations. So to a Horribles Parade; lawn chair marching teams, lawnmowers pulling wagons, the local little league champs, the football team dressed as cheerleaders, and social and political lampoons. However, the expectation is not to the extent of what the six year olds saw, or had thrown at their feet. My outrage is at the obscenity of the sculpture, graphics, and wording on some posters, not at the subject of the float.By the way, this is not an issue about a local editor, a local paper, or this publisher. I would feel the same if it was Senior Editor George Bailey of the Bedford Falls Gazette. And to another posters point, I prefer no home-rule petition. A journalist from out of town does not have to couch the story to spare his kids soccer coach, or a fellow PTA member.A video documents. I look to a journalist to synthesize, analyze, and provide balance. If all that is needed is a linear streaming visual history, then one can glue themselves to YouTube and CNN. I look to the paper for news, not just a P.S. I am very pleased at the level of discourse here. I am happy it has transcended some of the ‘talk-show’ blogs and is focusing on the concepts. Kudos’ to all!

  38. Bobb Burgess

    While the BC video may be controversial, I think it’s better that it exists than not. It provides a historical record of the event words could not entirely capture and is sparking debate around water coolers and dinner tables (do families still eat at dinner tables??) across the region.That being said, and I’m certainly no expert on newspaper videos (who is at this early stage?), I wonder about the quality of videos being produced by small publications. I prefer shorter videos to long ones; videos that don’t make me wait to get to the most important parts; and those that include visuals and dialogue. I think a brown bag lunch – where we could share ideas ranging from quality to standards – among people who are interested in video’s role in community journalism is a great idea, though perhaps not hosted by one particular news organization. Maybe NEPA could help organize/moderate such a gathering.Bobb BurgessManaging editor, CNC NW

  39. Carl

    All such “cultural festivals” are a disturbing display of civilized culture. The Gay Pride parades are equally as disgusting and get full support of state and local governments. Heterosexuals display such things and it is bashed and discussed for days in the media. Homosexuals get a pass or only puff pieces are presented because it is not PC to mention them in a disparaging light. Too bad bad behavior is condoned by both.

  40. Lissa Harris

    I’m late to this party, but would just like to say (re: Ken Coulton) that I worked at the Citizen a few years back with Bobby Gates and Dan MacAlpine, and they’re both career newspapermen with solid connections to Beverly. It’s frustrating that there aren’t more independent community papers around, sure–but most of the folks doing the bread-and-butter reporting at CNC/Gatehouse are pretty damn dedicated.

Comments are closed.