[Screenshot of Allstate pre-roll on Indiana fair collapse video]
Two readers -- one at USA Today, the other here on Gannett Blog -- make critical points about the newspaper's use of amateur cellphone video in its coverage of the Indiana state fair stage collapse, which killed five people and injured 45 others on Saturday.
On its site, the paper has embedded video of the incident from YouTube user cavaliers60, and then inserted a pre-roll: a 15-second paid Allstate ad that looks unintentionally
USAT reader trx430ex says in a comment: "Pretty lame USAToday using a cell phone video from a user then putting a commercial in front of it, AP or Reuters didn't have film?"
Indeed, trx430ex says another YouTube user -- JSilas7 -- offers far, far better footage. And they're right; it's amazing.
Credit's hard to see
What's more, USAT doesn't directly credit the video to the YouTube user. Viewers only figure that out at the end. (Cavaliers60 notes the video was actually taken by someone else.) Plus, there's nothing to indicate USAT is sharing any of the Allstate revenue, either.
Compare all this to The Indianapolis Star, which uses the same raw video posted by USAT. But the Star prominently credits cavaliers60 -- and the paper isn't running any pre-rolls, either.
The video's use raises ethical if not legal questions about a large, for-profit publisher directly profiting from the work of a citizen journalist. USAT certainly earns advertising revenue from pageviews generated by reader comments. But in this case, the Allstate bucks are tied directly to the work of an individual.
Who monitors adjacencies?
There's also the issue of control over ads when their content is accidentally tied to editorial subjects. In the print world, advertisers typically have had standing orders to pull or move their ads to avoid bad adjacencies. For example, airlines don't want to pay for advertising when the news is dominated by an airplane crash. I assume this is still the case in the digital world.
Maybe Allstate likes this adjacency. But I doubt it; why would the company want to look so calculating? [Updated at 9:49 a.m. ET: Anonymous@9:38 a.m. correctly and smartly points out in a comment, below, that Allstate pre-rolls now appear on all USAT videos on all subjects.]
Here's the video as it appears on the newspaper's site, with the Allstate preroll still appearing as I post this. And here it is on cavaliers60's YouTube page.