Columbus Dispatch pulls 'homeless voice' video off YouTube

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At the request of The Columbus Dispatch, YouTube has removed an unauthorized copy of its "homeless voice" video after the segment went viral, gaining 12 million views and a new voice-over career for a local homeless man, Ted Williams.

The video gained nationwide attention after someone copied it from The Dispatch's website and uploaded it to YouTube. Since then, Williams has appeared on the "Today" show and has received voice-over offers from a number of companies.

The Dispatch was completely within its rights to ask YouTube to remove the video, which clearly was a copyright infringement. Of course, new YouTube versions are bound to continue to appear.

But, as Cory Bergman writes, the value in Williams' story is that it went viral:

"It must be maddening for The Dispatch, but welcome to the new reality of social distribution. For stories that take on a life of their own, the benefit of massive distribution — even if you don’t control it — outweighs the value of walling it off on your own site."

And Bergman (a member of Poynter's National Advisory Board) adds, "Pulling the clip is like a slap in the face to the community that helped make the story explode."

He is right. But with some advance preparation, The Dispatch and other media outlets could benefit greatly from this type of unexpected smash hit. A few points to consider:

  • It is impossible to predict what will go viral, but your readers can make it happen if you let them.
  • Nature abhors a vacuum. If you don't make content available when and where viewers expect it, they will post it themselves, and quickly.
  • To that point, YouTube allows for the creation of channels that can highlight and brand your videos.
  • YouTube also offers advertising solutions, which would certainly provide a return on investment from 12 million page views.
  • But if you prefer to keep all of your video on-site, it is still important to allow some amount of social sharing and embedding. (See "vacuum," above.)
  • And if you are using the right video content management system, even your "shared" videos can still carry your advertising messages.

As Bergman writes, social media is a new force to be reckoned with. But its power can be made to work for you. Just remember, fortune favors the well-prepared.


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