Friday, November 06, 2009

One-track minds

This post features three ethical dilemmas that have become known to me within the last few days. I thought I’d share them each with you and then allow you to make your own judgments on what the best course of action should be in each case. One of them involves YouTube, but they all, to some degree, involve YOU.

A while back, I joked that the visitors of Disneyland were being treated like second-class citizens. But little did I know how accurate my joking would become. Case in point: there are plenty of rides at Disneyland that us old-timers wish would return. But what happens when you close a Disneyland ride to everyone but a select few? What happens when a particular ride becomes only available to those who are willing to pay more? I’m sorry to say that has just about become a reality.

It involves the monorail, one of the most unique rides in the park. Back in the day, any guest in Disneyland could board the monorail for a short trip through the park, then out of the park over the parking lot (sigh, remember the parking lot?) and to the Disneyland Hotel. Hotel guests could then exit or enter, and then the monorail would head back into the park where we could get off and resume a day at the park. That’s how it used to be, but I’m sorry to say things have changed. On my recent visits to Disneyland, I’ve been unable to get on the monorail, as it was being used for a “one-way” trip to the hotel, and therefore only meant for hotel guests. I live too close to the park to justify staying in the hotel just so I can ride the monorail. A ride has been effectively closed off for me.

Compare this situation to what is going on at the San Diego Zoo. The elephants have been moved to a different location (check out my flickr post to see a bit of it). So what happened to the old elephant enclosure? Well, part of it is now a VIP area. For more money, you can have a little lunch there and have one of the keepers bring out some animals for you to look at up close. As I was riding the tour bus around that area, the bus driver told us that she had to be quiet as we drove past so that she wouldn’t interrupt whatever was going on in that area. Even the bus drivers are having their rights taken away from them so that the zoo can make a little more money. I think that’s similar to what is going on with the monorail.

I’m hoping that none of this is intentional on the part of Disney- but can we really assume that they never thought people might feel a little inadequate because they couldn’t afford a night at the Disneyland Hotel along with their Disneyland tickets? Can we really assume that no little kid would want to ride the Monorail, only to hear their parent say, “I’m sorry, but we’re not allowed to ride the Monorail?” I understand the policy, but I am frankly disappointed with it. It goes right along with charging people to have their names printed on the mouse ears. Despite the benefits to hotel guests, this policy is creating the "second-class citizens" feeling that I joked about earlier.


YOUTREACHERY? The Internet was designed to bring information to others. As such, there’s a lot of information out there these days - “too much” as Duran Duran would say. And it’s not just written information, but audio information and video information. YouTube is probably the most popular spot for enjoying “video information.” And while the company seems willing to bend the rules for its viewers, it also seems willing to bend the rules to its own profit.

Here’s part of a great blog posting that sums up “The ethical dilemma that is YouTube“:

I received an interesting e-mail today from someone who had seen a video I posted to YouTube some time ago. It probably was embedded in one of my posts about Soupy Sales, who, sadly, passed away last week. This blog usually gets 200-300 hits per day. On Friday, the number of visitors increased tenfold. That's a tribute to Soupy, of course, that has nothing to do with me.

Anyway, here's the e-mail:
...I have a video that was recorded from television back in 1978......the guest was [someone] I used to work for. Upon [that person's] death, I created a memorial w/photos and such for his family, and also put the interview [into] this. I'd like to put it on YouTube, and have no idea... if I do this, will it be OK? Just a regular guy trying to share this w/the world.....your thoughts? Thanks.

And here's my reply:

YouTube requests that anyone who posts a video on their site be the person who created the video or owns the rights to the video. Everyone ignores this, most especially YouTube itself, which, once you subtract the funny home videos, is an empire built on copyright infringement. Don’t listen to anyone who says “it’s OK,” because it’s not. But YouTube usually looks the other way.

I think many people who post to YouTube, myself included, simply want to share something they have that others might like to see. Legally, it makes no difference whether you post something in order to make money or you’re just looking to share. But reasonable people can draw a distinction between something shared just for the pleasure of doing so… versus something posted in an attempt to capitalize on someone else’s creative work.

YouTube actually sent me an e-mail today about the Soupy video. Incredibly, here's what it said:

"Your video has become popular on YouTube, and you're eligible to apply for the YouTube Partnership Program, which allows you to make money from playbacks of your video.

"Once you're approved, making money from your video is easy. Here's how it works: First sign into your YouTube account. Then, complete the steps outlined [at a web address]. Once you're finished, we'll start placing ads next to your video and pay you a share of the revenue as long as you meet the program requirements. We look forward to adding your video to the YouTube Partnership Program. Thanks and good luck! "

Wow! If the video was mine, I might take them up on their offer. But I won’t do that in this case, because there’s no reason I should profit from something I didn’t create. I’m simply sharing something I like; I’m saying have a look, isn’t this great? Oh, I'll make a few comments, but really, this has nothing to do with me, and to turn it into a source of income would be wildly disrespectful to the memory of Soupy Sales – an entertainer I loved.

- Don

I may hold the record for procrastination when it comes to YouTube videos. I’ve been on the site for years, and have still not posted any of my own vids! That will (I hope) change someday, but issues like this have to give me pause. I obviously have some video clips that I’d love to share that I do not own the copyright to. I doubt if any of them will be popular enough for me to get an e-mail about advertising. But what if they are, and what if I do? Something I thankfully don’t have to worry about yet. Something to file in the back of my mind along with cleaning the place, writing the great American novel, visiting more national parks. . .


ATTACK OUR EMPLOYEE, GET PAID FOR IT: Back when I worked with the college newspaper, I had to endure a letter from a reader telling me what an idiot I was. That’s part of sharing your ideas sometimes - you have to put up with a lot of idiots who don’t get it. I think most of those who work at newspapers understand this. But what happens when somebody writes something that is critical of a reporter. . .and then that somebody gets paid by the newspaper for doing so? Check out this posting:

The Torrance Daily Breeze ran an unusual advertisement on Sunday. A local condo association bought five pages in the middle of the main news section to deliver a long screed about a bitter power struggle for control of its board.

But that's not what made this ad unusual. It's the fact that the ad singles out for criticism the Breeze reporter who covered the story. The ad's author, Cyd Balque, president of the Scottsdale Townhouses Association, makes repeated references to the reporter, Gene Maddaus. She characterizes his work as sensationalistic and biased.

It is not unusual for someone in the middle of a public controversy to be unhappy with the coverage. It is unusual for a publisher to sell that person an expensive platform ($10,000? $15,000?) to attack the reporter. After all, Balque could have written a letter to the editor. And if the stories were incorrect in some way the paper would have run a correction. On the contrary, the editors ran an editor's note in Sunday's paper saying they stood behind the coverage.

Should the other side in the condo dispute get five pages to vent their concerns? Should other reporters worry about retribution if they take on special interests with deep pockets? What about editorial independence?

The ethical dilemma here has to do with the work of the reporters and how that work is perceived by both the reporter and his bosses. I’m sorry to say that many in the newspaper industry consider reporters to be “moneymakers” rather than reporters. They see reporters as helping them make money, not as performing a valuable service. It’s easy to understand how they could “sell out” and allow such an advertisement to be published.

So did the paper do wrong? I think only the reporter himself knows the ultimate answer to that question. Hopefully, the reporter understands where the bosses are coming from, and has no real hard feelings about any of this. On the other hand, if the reporter is upset about it, then we have a big issue. For it doesn’t matter if the advertisement is justified or not - someone is upset. And nobody wants to work for a company that upsets its employees so it can make more money.

Are you listening, Disneyland? YouTube? Torrance Daily Breeze?