MSM Lowering Standards Post-YouTube?

Executions of dictators aside, there seems to be a growing, disturbing trend of violent kid-on-kid video finding its way to places like YouTube and MySpace. On the wild Internet, it’s hardly surprising to occasionally surf across something explicit or graphic. That’s part of the price you pay for networked freedom. But we’re not sure what to make of an apparent follow-on trend, that of purportedly reputable broadcast operations — including CNN — using snippets of YouTube video violence to pep up their “professional” reports, Jerry Springer style.

The “Most Popular” and “Best Video” on CNN’s home page Thursday night was a 1-minute, 21-second report headlined “Girl fight goes viral,” with a thumbnail still photo clearly showing hair-pulling and fist-swinging. According to the accompanying “news” report, the fight happened at a high school in South Carolina. In standard pro-TV tsk-tsk fashion, the reporter intones that the video was then put on “YouTube, a web site where just about anyone can load video for everyone to view.”

And if you missed it there, well, CNN is apparently just too happy to compile some of the juicier bits of the fight. Just watch that Cisco “The Human Network” pre-roll ad, and then you too can be a voyeur of adolescent violence.

Other broadcast operations are also jumping on board the trend, especially in the case of an earlier teen girl fight in North Babylon, N.Y., that also enjoyed its moments of online fame. News outlets like this one apparently think that by using “professional” techniques like scrambling faces, it’s then OK to run the clips of kids smacking each other around because well, because it’s news, right?

Even a Canadian news outlet jumped on the kidfight bandwagon, splicing in fight scenes to buff up a report that the assailants in the New York incident had been arrested. Again, more snarky descriptions about YouTube. Doesn’t seem to keep those “professional” outlets from using the free B-roll, though.

So in the name of the First Amendment, what’s the right thing to do? Saddam Hussein’s execution video was disturbing, but given its news factor it was inevitable that the video would be seen on broadcast news. But showing teen violence videos, without the exhaustive attribution, fact-checking or verification that CNN claims to have in spades is… what? C’mon CNN, surely you can figure out a better way to turn page views.

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