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Feb. 19, 2014, 10 a.m.

What to do when your video is winning social media, but it’s a copy that’s getting the clicks?

Even as they try to beef up video views on their own sites, news outlets should stay aware of viral opportunities that might exist on other platforms like YouTube.

What should a news organization do when an unauthorized copy of video they produced is going viral on YouTube?

That’s the question Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA faced when a commentary by its veteran sportscaster Dale Hansen about gay football player Michael Sam, started to spread like wildfire on social media. In case you haven’t seen it:

Or, as Upworthy put it: Old White Guy Drops A Monster Speech On Anti-Gay Football Teams. Seriously Impressive Performance. People loved it and spread it far and wide across their social networks — over 4.5 million plays at last count.

One problem: That wasn’t an official WFAA video that was spreading. That was someone else’s rip of WFAA’s video — specifically, someone who runs a YouTube channel named MyDailyWorldNews. WFAA wasn’t getting the benefit of those ad dollars on YouTube, and it wasn’t getting the benefit of any viewers who might decide to follow their YouTube channel. Someone else was.

At the NewsBiz blog, WFAA web editor Matt Goodman writes about the thinking going on at WFAA at this point:

After the segment ran, it took about 48 hours for the “Hansen Unplugged” commentary to claw its way to the top of Reddit. The link that made it was ripped and uploaded to YouTube by someone not affiliated with WFAA, which employs Hansen and me.

Being atop the Reddit mountain has its benefits, primarily exposure. But when the link is sending folks to a third-party website, you’re missing out on hundreds of thousands of pageviews, shares and online currency.

I’m one of four Web editors who manages content posted to We were faced with a sudden decision: Should we pitch a fit and file a complaint with YouTube, citing our copyright (and breaking that precious Reddit link)? Or should we let the thing ride?

Their answer: Let it ride.

This was a situation where we felt getting Dale’s message in front of as many eyes and ears as possible was more important than where our viewers and readers were seeing it. That’s not to say we didn’t benefit from the reaction –– Hansen’s commentary drew nearly three quarters of a million views, setting an all-time record for video views on our site. However, that YouTube clip, which was posted to Huffington Post and Gawker, has 4.5 million views (and counting), dwarfing our numbers. On the surface, that disparity seems like a cause for alarm. In reality, it didn’t really matter. Our brand was seemingly everywhere. Dale became the de-facto voice on one of the nation’s most hot-button topics last week. And he made a difference: he heard from people in Australia, Canada, Finland, Great Britain and, in his half-joking words, “every state in the union other than Alabama or Mississippi.” A Canadian teenager sent in an eloquent email saying that he now had the courage to discuss his sexual orientation with his parents because Dale, the self-proclaimed old fat guy from Texas, had the courage to support Sam on television. Dale’s eyes welled up telling the newsroom about this.

I think that, as far as it goes, that’s the correct answer. Issuing a takedown on the samizdat YouTube vid in the hopes that you’d push people to is basically hopeless. Videos go viral on video platforms — YouTube 95 percent of the time, maybe Vimeo or couple others once in a while — not on individual TV station websites. I’m reminded of the blowback the Columbus Dispatch faced when they had a YouTube clip taken down under similar circumstances.

But let me suggest a further answer, which is that the truly correct choice would have been to have posted the video to YouTube in the first place.

WFAA did eventually post a copy on YouTube two days after the fact — but only after it had already spread far and wide. In fact, by the time WFAA posted to YouTube, not just one or two but seven different YouTubers had already uploaded versions of the video. For instance, Dallas resident Noreen Choudhury was so inspired by Hansen’s comments that she hit rewind on her DVR and posted a shakycam video of her television set:

She tweeted about it at the time:

If seven other people thought this was a commentary that YouTube viewers were going to have outsized interest in, maybe WFAA should have too.

I get that every news outlet is trying to maximize on-site video plays and ad impressions. But when you have a video with this kind of obvious viral potential — and with a potential audience that far outstrips the local audience who would come to your website — throw it up on YouTube and get ahead of the uploaders who’ll otherwise beat you to it. The audience normally attracts — people in North Texas — is a tiny subset of the people who reacted to this video. And that strikes me as a pretty predictable fact.

(Just as I suspect that two follow-on WFAA videos — Dale reacting to all the hubbub and his next commentary a week later — would be getting a fair amount of play on social media if they’d been posted on YouTube. At this typing, each video has been tweeted…three times.)

I hope that Goodman’s right that letting the video spread “expose[s] WFAA to a viewership that may have otherwise had no idea about who we are…perhaps some of these folks will return to us for news because of the experience Dale gave them.” Maybe! But roughly 98 percent or so of those web viewers don’t live in Dallas and will likely never think of the letters W, F, A, and A in that order again. You shouldn’t let a local-audience strategy prevent a national-audience play on those occasions where it’s available. And if your goal in posting video really is to increase content discovery and brand recognition, YouTube is 1,000× better at that than your own site.

It’s possible I’m invested in this because seven years ago, when I was working at WFAA’s then-corporate-sibling Dallas Morning News, there was a piece of WFAA archival video that we wanted to feature. We had the video in digital form, but it wasn’t embeddable — so I was asked to upload it to my personal YouTube account because that was the simplest (only?) way to make it available to our readers. That video — of a WFAA reporter getting her lips frozen during a winter storm standup — was pretty funny, and it’s gotten 26,900 views to date and 18 comments since. Nothing huge — but substantially more than it would have gotten if it remained solely on

Anyway, I just hope that the next time WFAA or any local TV station or newspaper has a piece of video they think might blow up in social media, they at least consider seeding the viral beast themselves — rather than watching someone else do it and reap all those views.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email ( or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     Feb. 19, 2014, 10 a.m.
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