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

Old ethics and new media (VI)

Howard Owens, GateHouse Media’s director of digital publishing, has responded to YouTube’s decision to remove the Beverly Citizen’s controversial video of the “Horribles” parade.

According to Owens, YouTube acted after receiving a complaint from someone whose face was visible in the video. Apparently YouTube has a privacy policy under which it will take down a video at literally anyone’s request. Owens sums it up as follows:

We simply cannot allow YouTube, or any other business partner, to subvert our editorial independence. If YouTube wants to get in the game of hosting video for established news organizations — which it is doing — then it needs to respect the editorial judgment and independence of the news professionals in those organizations. If YouTube is unwilling be a true media partner, then, at least for GateHouse, we will need to seek alternative means of distribution of our videos.

Now, it’s easy enough to say that YouTube should act as a common carrier, similar to the phone company, and carry any traffic that comes its way, regardless of content. As a free-speech advocate, I would much prefer a policy like that.

But it’s not that simple. YouTube is successful in part because it does a good job of keeping out pornography and graphic violence. It’s the PG-13 nature of YouTube that makes it an attractive venue for media companies like GateHouse in the first place.

On the other hand, Owens is absolutely right that if the folks at YouTube are going to remove news videos arbitrarily, then there’s no way a news organization can do business with them.

I haven’t changed my mind about the video — I still would have edited it to remove the eight-foot-long penis and some of the more offensive signs. But that has to be the news organization’s call, not that of the service hosting the video.

I realize this post is entirely one-sided, and I hope YouTube has something to say. Soon.

Wednesday morning update: An unnamed YouTube spokeswoman tells the Boston Herald that the video was “inappropriate,” but leaves it at that.

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  1. Anonymous

    I don’t get it. To me, YouTube has no more obligation to carry GateHouse News videos than GateHouse has an obligation to print anything that its readers send in.Bob in Peabody

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: I think there’s a huge difference. A newspaper has a limited amount of space, and notifies its readers in advance that it will publish only a select amount of material that readers send in.YouTube, by contrast, has unlimited space and allows anyone to upload anything they wish. Then YT goes in and deletes stuff that they don’t like.This wasn’t porn, graphic violence, or a copyright violation. It was news. YT has welcomed journalists to use its service as a free publication platform. Now it has told the world that it reserves the right to do a final edit.The analogy isn’t perfect, because everything is free. (Though YT does benefit financially from being the go-to place for Web video.) But it’s as if a commercial printer reserved the right to review his clients’ material.

  3. Ari Herzog

    Dan, for you and your readers, the parade video with penis float front and center is back on YouTube.Not MacAlpine’s video, either.Check it out.Related, “mydisabilitytalk” uploaded a different video with his thoughts.There are over 20 million google hits on keyword combinations of delete, youtube, and videos. One that speaks to the heart is from May 2008 in Ars Technica about YT disagreeing with Senator Lieberman’s request to take down Islamic videos for fear of terrorist recruiting. Subject matter aside, you can see Google’s public policy response.I, too, wait to see how this plays out. The ongoing YT-Viacom suit can’t be helping the legal department over there.

  4. cranberrycynic

    I still would have edited it to remove the eight-foot-long penis If you only had a nickel for every time you have had to write that…

  5. Neil

    Too bad Oscar Meyer’s promotional vehicle wasn’t there. Or Hood’s. Shield your eyes, children!

  6. Greg Reibman

    Ari: That certainly is MacAlpine’s video.

  7. Howard Owens

    This is ironic. We just issued a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube because the video Ari links to above violates our Creative Commons license.We only allow redistribution of our content if it is unaltered, retains our copyright information, and back references the originating site.This video violates those terms.We don’t mind people redistributing the original video, so long as it isn’t edited and we’re given proper credit.

  8. Brigid

    I don’t understand why GateHouse doesn’t simply host the videos on its own site. WordPress allows me to do that with my blog. As—full disclosure!—a former employee from the CNC days, I know their computers aren’t the greatest. But is it really that hard?That seems preferable to subjecting yourself to the whims of a third party.

  9. Ari Herzog

    Like Brigid, I wrote for CNC once upon a time, too, albeit in a freelance capacity.She brings up a series of questions.1. Should a newspaper upload a video on a free hosting/sharing site like Youtube,,, etc., or host it on its own domain with presumed own hardware?2. Like what Mike Capuano and the congressional franking commission wants to do with YouTube, should newspapers either individually or as a consortium work an arrangement with YT for a specialized channel? Or, is there enough interest to revisit the failed attempt by Bob Murdoch and others to create a new video sharing site?3. Is there validity to differentiate among newspaper content, e.g. videos, audio interviews, columnist blogs, etc? Or is news news regardless what media it is?4. As print newspapers toss the presses and go 100% online and/or as traditional papers embrace technology to change the way they do business, should the rules be different for online papers than print papers? Should online papers have a greater freedom to utilize Web 2.0 tools?

  10. Gard Trask

    Having run more than one web site with the ability to post unregulated messages, sometimes in a anonymous manner, it amazes me when someone posts and the post is removed. Often the response is ‘how dare they” or “If YouTube is unwilling be a true media partner, then we will take our ball and go elsewhere.”. First, the web site owes no one anything. There is no implied right to post whatever, whenever. Putting up a web site is no difference than a cork board outside Market Basket. There is no ‘partnership’, no agreement, and if the manager at Market Basket wants to remove flyers posted there, so be it. Second, YouTube is not purporting to be the avenging angel of free speech, holding the constitution like a flaming sword of righteousness. Why should they keep up any post that could engage them in legal action? Why should, if informed of death threats, not take the video down? And they owe nothing to the poster, save maybe a private courtesy communication later. YouTube owes no one anything. There were published rules. YouTube worked within the confines of their own rules. Gatehouse has no more right to demand the video’s return than I have to demand they publish a letter to the editor in full, and unedited.

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