By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Just because you can …

Universal Hub has the lowdown on the Somerville Journal’s decision to post photos and a video of the Naked Quad Run at Tufts University. The Journal is getting slammed with comments, some of them funny, some of them questioning the Journal’s ethics.

Now, don’t get excited — you won’t find any full frontal nudity, as they used to say on “Monty Python.” And allow me to lower the excitement level a little more by picking up on the ethical theme.

The Journal is part of GateHouse Media, which has unveiled an aggressive online initiative called Wicked Local. GateHouse’s online guru, Howard Owens, is a huge proponent of video. I hope he weighs in on the Tufts shenanigans.

Greg Reibman, editor of the GateHouse territory that includes the Journal, tells Jay Fitzgerald of the Boston Herald: “For students to be shocked that newspapers would show up and take photos, I don’t see how they can be so naive in this day and age.”

My reaction? Neither the video nor the photos are offensive. I don’t think anyone is recognizable except for the guy who’s wrapped himself in the Israeli flag. You can also find slightly more revealing photos of the event at Flickr. (No, I’m not going to help you, but it’s not difficult.)

Still, posting pictures of drunken students running around in their birthday suits is not the sort of thing a community newspaper ought to be doing. Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.

This isn’t a big deal, but it does illustrate how technology is changing not just the content of journalism but the ethical decision-making that goes into it.

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  1. Suldog

    Yeah, the amazing thing to me is that anyone photographed would have the (excuse this) balls to complain. When you run around naked in public, you have to expect a few folks to look.

  2. themofo

    >>Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.I dunno, it made me go read the Somerville Journal website for the first time in ages. Good marketing, in my opinion.

  3. jvwalt

    It does reflect a subtle but important — and troubling — shift in journalistic standards. There used to be more of an emphasis on whether a story was important or not. Now, there’s more weight given to “Will people be interested in this?” So you get fewer stories about policy and more about the political horse race; you get fewet stories about world affairs and more about Hollywood. And you get a newspaper posting naked photos on its website to increase traffic.

  4. Giulianissimo

    This is hard news (as opposed to flaccid). Seriously, the world deserves to see what sick perverts today’s far-left, America-hating college students are up to. Federal funding for education should be outlawed, and so should the state of Massachusetts while we’re at it. The communist media should stop covering up for the perversions of young anal sphincters such as these Tufts brats. More exposes like these, please, not fewer. Drop dead, Dan Kennedy you elitist snob.

  5. Dan Kennedy


  6. Outraged Liberal

    Better cut back on the caffeine giulianissimo.

  7. Greg Reibman

    Thanks for the feedback Dan. I’d argue that standards vary from community to community. Something that might be appropriate for a newspaper in Somerville, might not be right for folks in Danvers.Ever since Community Newspaper Company was formed, the rub has been that a giant corporation was going to take unique papers and turn them into cookie cutter clones. Instead, we have scores of unique community publications and a management which recognizes that different communities have different standards. None of this is meant to suggest that I think this story is bold journalism or making a strong social statement.We covered it because it was fun — and funny — which I believe is the same reason why all those Tufts kids have been taking off all their clothes and running around in public for the past five years.

  8. Don, American

    Wasn’t Mommy proud.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Greg: There’s no question that what flies in Somerville is not the same as what would fly in Weston. But there’s also no question that the hometown weekly should be held to a different standard from the user-generated content you’ll find on Flickr. I don’t know what the answer is. We’re all groping our way. Thanks for checking in.

  10. Anonymous

    It seems to me that by holding this event in such a public place — and judging by the expressions on most of the faces in the flickr pics — that these kids WANTED the run to be covered in this way. Did they perhaps have second thoughts only when they realized that mom and dad could easily access the photos and video?

  11. Tufts alum

    I agree with you Dan. Personally I don’t object to the coverage of the event or the still pictures (with proper attribution of course)but I do object to the video and I fear it’s a shameless ploy for eyeballs because they still wont remove it.

  12. Steve

    Shameless ploy for eyeballs! I agree!Isn’t that the point? 🙂 I mean, when you go from the staid image of “Town On-Line” to the hip, edgy “Wicked Local”, we should expect it. And I don’t think it’s that bad. After all, a video link is just a still picture until you click on it, and you know what you’re going to see when you click there.Tradition!

  13. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: You’re right, but somewhere there’s a line to be drawn. And that somewhere is between a zoning-board meeting and hard-core pornography. What makes this interesting is that it’s in that vast gray area.

  14. Howard Owens

    My post is up.

  15. joel

    I’m with Greg on this one. I’m all for exhaustive examination of journalistic standards, but we should spend more time worrying about why the Washington media doesn’t go harder at White House coverups and a lot less time with our thumbs up our butts debating here on Romenesko whether stuff like this is “proper.” C’mon! Shallow, fun, silly. Why not? And any college kid who has the stones to complain about this should be sent to a seminary. Oh, wait a minute…

  16. joel

    And by the way, if we *must* debate it, the fact that HUNDREDS of students were involved makes it clearly worthy of a little coverage, no? When that many people are out doing something in in a public space and we still decide taste prevents us from covering, then it’s no wonder people are turning away from traditional media…

  17. Lyss

    If Spencer Tunick (photog famous for his pictures of large groups of naked people) had documented the run with his camera and displayed those photos on a gallery wall, that would be called art. The school even sends out an email warning students:“If you decide to be athletic and participate in the night’s festivities, do not forget that that this event attracts many onlookers and that pictures and videos can be easily distributed throughout Internet sites such as Facebook or YouTube. For this reason, we ask that students do not bring cameras.” (from

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