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June 25, 2010, 5:15 p.m.

This Week in Review: YouTube scores a win over Viacom, Rolling Stone learns and reveals media lessons, iPad resurrects Gourmet

[Every Friday, we sum up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. Mark Coddington is off this week. —Josh]

Victory over Viacom for YouTube: This week a U.S. District Court judge sided with Google in a high-profile case that could shape how content (or at least Jon Stewart and SpongeBob clips) get consumed on the web.

In the $1 billion lawsuit, Viacom, which owns MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon, claimed that YouTube’s business model attracts users who want to see entertainment for free, including its protected material. YouTube claimed it’s not responsible for checking every video before a user uploads to ensure it doesn’t violate copyright law. (Users now post 24 hours of footage to YouTube every minute.) The judge sided with YouTube, citing the “safe harbor” clause of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which frees sites from checking user-generated content for legal concerns before posting, noting that simply knowing that users are violating copyright law is not enough to make the site liable.

How are media companies taking the news? Not well. It’s a blow to companies that have been trying to crack down on sites that distribute their content for free. But whether that actually means they are losing out financially is unclear. The Wall Street Journal puts the loss in some perspective, saying “media executives say they expect companies like YouTube will continue to automatically filter for copyrighted content, however, as the companies jockey for licensing agreements with media producers.” The New York Times reports that tensions between Internet companies and television producers has “improved” since the lawsuit was first filed. And Viacom has its own video-sharing site now with its own piracy issues.

Two media stories in one Rolling Stone scoop: The rock magazine’s in-depth profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal made a splash before it was even published, thanks to a promotional version they sent to outlets like Politico, which hosted a pdf copy, and the Associated Press, which ran its own version. Rolling Stone’s strategy, which allowed other organizations to get the bounce from its work, seemed to hope that by creating online buzz, they’d enjoy a boost at the newsstands. That doesn’t account for how stories spread across the Internet. When the story was already huge (McChrystal had already been summoned to the White House to be fired), they posted the story in full. A day later, only 16 readers had left comments. The delay resulted in the online conversation around the story taking place elsewhere.

Then there was the matter of beat reporter vs. freelancer on access. Freelance journalist Michael Hastings wrote the piece for Rolling Stone, a fact Politico said meant the Pentagon should have “considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks.” First CJR and then Jay Rosen caught the line, with Rosen using it to highlight an underlying media truth: “Think about what the Politico is saying: an experienced beat reporter is less of a risk for a powerful figure like McChrystal because an experienced beat reporter would probably not want to ‘burn bridges’ with key sources by telling the world what happens when those sources let their guard down.” A Politico editor later pulled that part of the story, saying it was just an edit, nothing more. More broadly, cable news picked up on the same issue (freelancer vs. beat reporter), which earned them a segment on Viacom’s The Daily Show.

Magazines and the iPad: The promise of the iPad was in full swing this week, with two announcements from Condé Nast that it’s planning apps for two of its titles. (Its Wired app has surpassed newsstand sales, although we’ll see whether that can survive or whether it’s a one-time bounce for people eager to try out the app.) For one of the apps, Condé Nast is resurrecting the brand of Gourmet, the magazine it shuttered last year. Ex-editor Ruth Reichl didn’t think much of it. Condé Nast is also planning an app for The New Yorker, using Adobe’s Digital Magazine Studio, the route Adobe has taken to get around Apple’s restrictions on Adobe’s Flash. Sports Illustrated had iPad news this week, too, unveiling its app. SI will charge readers $4.99 for each weekly issue, the same as the newsstand price. Will charging newsstand prices instead of home-subscriber prices work for the iPad? We’ll see.

Link roundup: This week we’re going newsy. First up, this thing called the iPhone 4 came out. Many, many people (estimated 1.5 million) purchased one on the first day it went on sale. But is it great? Gizmodo crowdsourced its reviews and focused on isolated reports of problems; the site’s Apple coverage has taken a markedly negative turn since Apple pursued the site legally for Gizmodo’s purchase of a stolen iPhone prototype.

It’s long been rumored that CNN was setting itself up to operate without the help of the AP wire service. This week it announced the official break, though it’ll keep a Reuters contract. The question is: Is CNN making a purely financial decision to operate without AP, or is it a bigger move to actually compete with it?

The last story I’ll note is today’s resignation of blogger-reporter Dave Weigel from The Washington Post after some negative remarks about conservatives that he sent to an off-the-record listserv surfaced online. [Full disclosure: I used to be Dave’s boss at The Washington Independent and am his friend.] We’ll see lots of conversation about this in the coming days, but it’s already raising questions. Is there a safe space journalists can be allowed to express their opinions? Do the old rules about journalists not having opinions — or at least not sharing them — still make sense in an online age? Does a newspaper like the Post, which has recently hired three reporter-bloggers, have room for people who can report but also have a point of view? And if newspapers define themselves as having the view from nowhere, will they be able to compete with all the online outlets that don’t feel bound by those same rules?

POSTED     June 25, 2010, 5:15 p.m.
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