Raw video of Toronto streetcar shooting is no place for product placement

Security cameras and iPhones captured the senseless killing of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim at the hands of Toronto police. Pretty much every major news station used raw footage in their coverage of the story. Videos of the fatal encounter on Youtube have gained hundreds of thousands of views.

The footage is chilling. While the raw videos are surfacing on almost every Canadian news site, some of these websites play ads before the video of the final moments of Yatim’s life.

Perhaps this is a prime example of what the Internet can do to stories like this. The web allows news to reach all the way around the world very quickly, a platform for just about everyone and their mother’s opinion on the subject. Reportage on the Internet doesn’t always give context, it doesn’t always give the whole story, and sometimes starkly inappropriate things are fused together.

Ideals aside, journalism is a business like anything else. Pre-roll ads can be expected with most coverage. However, the relationship between advertisers and news outlets will always seem unsettling because it is the responsibility of journalists to provide fair and accurate coverage free of commercial interests.

News outlets are within their rights to roll advertisements over footage hosted on their site but the question remains whether they should keep pre-rolls on for videos of this nature. Many people might not even think that the presence of these ads alter their experience of the footage, but maybe that is because we are accustomed to being bombarded by ads online.

Raw footage of a young man being killed should not follow an ad for laundry detergent. For one, it is inappropriate. The shocking video is bound to draw a lot of viewers and it is not in the best taste to garner attention to a brand with footage such as this. What distinguishes this video from any other news story is the nature of the incident; this is raw footage of someone’s final moments. To show an ad right before the chilling footage almost works to desensitize the viewer to the severity of what they are about to watch.

Things are so accessible on the Internet and the age of infotainment blurs the lines between real news stories and ethical coverage. This video is not like the other videos found on news sites and should be treated differently. If a major news outlet makes the choice to run raw footage, they are making an editorial decision to show an incident in its purest form and should allow the news consumer to experience that free from ads or commercial distractions.Otherwise, the widespread use of the video does little to distinguish it from Youtube viral videos of cats or makeup tutorials. This probably won’t be the last time a big news story is centred around footage like this, as online news coverage progresses it is important that major news outlets set precedent for the way raw footage is used.

I live to write, create, and tell stories. I'm a freelance journalist with a strong curiosity about the way online culture translates into our everyday lives. I drink too much coffee, shop a little too much and invest way too much emotion into fictional characters. What can I say? I live in extremes.

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