Memo to Newspapers: Stop Thinking Like a Portal


Updated: The story of homeless radio announcer Ted Williams became an Internet sensation this week, as a video of him got passed around on Twitter and in the blogosphere, and quickly led to appearances on the Today Show (s ge) and job offers from around the country. But the video that started it all — an interview with a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch newspaper in Ohio — is no longer available on YouTube (s goog). In yet another example of a newspaper that can’t see the forest for the dead trees, there is just a statement from the video-hosting site that the clip “has been removed due to a copyright claim by The Dispatch.”

A web editor in the Dispatch newsroom seemed confused when asked why the paper ordered YouTube to take the clip down. “It’s our video, and someone put it there without our permission,” he said. All of which is true; the original clip was copied from the Dispatch site and uploaded to YouTube, and therefore the newspaper had a pretty clear copyright claim. The video can still be seen at the Dispatch website, along with other videos related to the Williams story. But how many people are going to watch the video there? Likely a fraction of the 13 million who watched it on YouTube.

In fact, not only does it make little sense to pull a video after it has already been seen by 13 million people — not to mention the fact that there are half a dozen other versions available at YouTube, including one from the Associated Press newswire — but the Williams story might not even have happened if it wasn’t for YouTube. Although the link to the Dispatch site could have been shared on Twitter and other social networks just as easily as the link to the YouTube video was, the newspaper doesn’t allow its video to be embedded, and therefore, it likely wouldn’t have spread so far so quickly. Williams might never have come to the attention of any of the companies now offering him jobs.

The larger issue here, of course, is one of control over content, something newspapers and other traditional media outlets seem determined to fight for, whether through copyright takedowns or by putting up paywalls, or by shipping iPad (s aapl) apps that don’t allow users to share or even link to content. Few publishers — apart from The Guardian, which launched an ambitious “open platform” last year, and some equally forward-thinking outlets such as the Journal Register Co. in New Jersey, with its web-first strategy — seem to have really embraced the idea that content can’t be bottled up and locked behind walls any more, and that there is more to be gained by letting it be shared than there is to be lost.

In the late 1990s, everyone wanted to become a “portal:” a destination site where users would get all their email and news and entertainment and so on. Yahoo (s yhoo) and AOL (s aol) and Microsoft (s msft) spent billions building these businesses. Then along came Google, with its single search box and the complete opposite approach: It does its best to send you away as quickly as possible. That’s because the web giant doesn’t think of itself as a “content” or media company. It is simply providing a service — and to the extent that it does a good job of providing that service, readers are more willing to come back, and to click on related ads. Pretty simple, really.

What has the Dispatch gained by removing its video from YouTube? It hasn’t stopped people from sharing the video, and it likely hasn’t convinced anyone to go to its website other than readers who were already going there anyway — and even when they get to the video, there are no comments or any other social or community elements to keep them there. All the takedown has done is make the newspaper look like a company that doesn’t really understand what it’s doing online, or why.

Update: As noted by a commenter here who lives in Columbus (and who wrote a blog post about the takedown of the video), the Dispatch has created a YouTube channel and uploaded a copy of the Ted Williams video — something it probably should have done before, rather than after (the new version of the video had 136 views at last check). The editor of the paper has also written a blog post about the incident.

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They don’t ‘get it’! Employing people who ‘get it’ issin’t the solution – the problem is that the guy at the top of the rung is stifling innovation and slowing everyone else down. So Change has to come from top-down, not keeping relics in lofty positions


As several people have pointed out, I have a feeling this has much less to do with protecting a copyright, as it does losing 13 million impressions and potential clicks on their webpage’s ads. Not having the foresight to post the video on their own YouTube, they went into, “OH CRAP!” mode and pulled it. Completely understand, but it was much too late.

Daniel Honigman

As always, you’re right on, Matthew. (Hope you’re doing well, by the way.)

Releasing the videos on YouTube — with ads included — can be a good additional source of revenue for newspapers.

The ads don’t necessarily have to be YouTube ads, either; Just edit the videos to include the ads at the beginning. This way, once a video goes “viral” (I really hate that term) the news organization can make some money.

Christoph Trappe

I could be wrong, but doesn’t YouTube offer revenue possibilities to content owners for their content even if it was uploaded by others?


If you believe in what you’re saying, then why does GigaOm have to create a paid-only elitest version called GigaOm Pro?


The real winner here is RussiaToday, their version of the video is going on 5 million views as of me posting this.


Hey, cool, a newspaper with a blogger! So nouveau!

Seriously, though, it was not under their copyright? It was never NOT under their copyright. Upon creation it is theirs, no?

What they should’ve done is had the video and it’s page views transferred to them, rather than serve YT with some take down notice, and save everyone the trouble. Y’all got the props from the media. Funny, too, how it’s a VIDEO from a dead tree paper that got attention, not PRINT.


Great point about the VIDEO getting attention, not a print story. Guess that paper has SOME web savvy.


The “web editor” should try viewing the video on their site with an iPad.

Etan Horowitz

Many newspapers have “partner sites” with YouTube where I believe they make advertising revenue, although it’s usually very little I imagine. The paper where I used to work, the Orlando Sentinel, has a partner site –

What the paper could have done when the thing went viral is talk to YouTube, set up a partner site and get the video up there and try to get something out of it that.

Of course a better solution would have been for the paper to have had its own YouTube site before this even started. As you mention in your post, having embeddable videos on their site would also help.

A good example of a newspaper that capitalized on a YouTube hit is the Gainesville Sun and their “don’t tase me bro” video from 2007.

The paper posted that on its own YouTube site and it currently has more than 5 million views.


Mathew Ingram

Thanks, Etan — that’s a great counter-example. It appears (as another commenter noted above) that the paper has created a YouTube channel now and uploaded a new copy of the video. A good idea, but feels a little like closing the barn door after the horses have fled.

Tim Vickery

Excellent article Mathew — “doesn’t really understand what it’s doing online, or why.” just about sums up nearly all news companies :)

Heather Whaling

I live in Columbus and the Dispatch is my hometown newspaper, so when I heard they requested the removal of the video, I naturally decided to blog about it, too. I reached out to the Dispatch this AM, who directed me to contact the editor. Instead of responding to my questions, the editor sent me an email that said he would be releasing a statement. The statement is now available, and the Dispatch created a YouTube channel and posted the video there (something that they should have done days ago).

My post includes an excerpt from the statement, if you want to read it. However, it’s unlikely that it will change anyone’s opinion about the paper’s social media savyness …



I’m not alone in this – I watched the video first on YouTube and learned it was shot for the Dispatch via the screen title at the end. 13 million people learned about the Dispatch that day.

As an aside- it also struck me as odd that the reporter handed Ted the money and said “I’m going to make you work for your dollar.” Is this how reporters conduct interviews? Unethical perhaps?

We can post a “7 Things wrong with the Homeless Man Story” to be sure.


I have a feeling some editor said: “Why aren’t we making money on this clip? If we put it in our system, we can put pre-roll/mid-roll/post-roll/whatever.”

Mathew: Would your response point to the brand equity and awareness built by getting 20-million views on the clip via youtube?

IMHO, they should’ve put a “burn” of their logo in the bottom left or top right hand corner of the clip to ensure the Columbus Dispatch is seen at all times during the clip — not just at the end. I have a feeling that would be a lot more valuable to the organization than the revenue attached to serving up views in house.

Just a thought…

Dog Bites Man

A bad thing happens to newspaper, thus a knee-jerk “newspapers don’t get it” story. Sure trying to remove the video from youtube without having copies of the video on youtube yourself is foolish, the larger problem is that people — even “legit” bloggers, wire services etc. see news clips as fair game and don’t hesitate to give credit to the original source.

For example, Gigaom didn’t bother to credit the Ohio paper with the image capture either.

Further, in cases like the “bedroom intruder” the viral derivative works chopped out the original reporting…

Everyone learns their lesson at some point and burns their url and credits all over the video so as to benefit from the piracy and/or viral video creation or at least makes folks work

Mathew Ingram

Thanks, Ed — yes, I asked to speak with the managing editor and I pinged @DispatchEditor on Twitter, but I haven’t heard back from anyone.

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