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JULY 9, 2009 2:48AM

"United Breaks Guitars": Power of the source

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By King Kaufman: This isn't exactly a Future of Journalism story except that the Future of Journalism -- and increasingly, the present of it -- appears to be all about the power of the source. Consider a source by the name of Dave Carroll, a Canadian musician who had his prize guitar wrecked by careless United Airlines baggage handlers.

Carroll says that he and his band, Sons of Maxwell, were on their way from their Halifax, Nova Scotia, home to Omaha for a tour last year when they and other passengers saw United employees literally throwing guitars around on the tarmac during a plane change in Chicago.

Carroll later discovered his $3,500 guitar had been badly damaged, he says, and that he spent nine months getting the runaround from United before he was finally told the airline would simply not pay to repair the instrument, even though it had been properly packed and there was no real dispute about who had broken it.

"So I promised the last person to finally say 'no' to compensation," Carroll writes on his Web site, "that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world."

The first of those songs, titled "United Breaks Guitars," went up on YouTube Monday. As of late Wednesday, the goofy video for the mildly catchy number had been viewed more than 255,000 times. That's what you call a hit. Carroll writes that all of the people involved in the recording of the song and the creation of the video volunteered their services.

CBC News and others report that the video quickly got United's attention. "This has struck a chord with us," the Canadian network quoted a United spokesperson saying Tuesday. "We're going to contact him directly." The Los Angeles Times quotes Carroll's wife, Jill, saying that United had gotten in touch, though nothing had been settled.

Picture this incident happening 20 years ago. Carroll would have gone through the same runaround, and then -- what? He might have called a few newspaper or TV reporters in Halifax or Chicago, and he would likely have been told that his broken guitar was a sad story, but hardly news. If he were really lucky a consumer-advocate reporter might have taken up his case and badgered the airline into cutting him a check for the repair cost.

In 2009, though, the CBC reports, Carroll thought to himself, "What would Michael Moore do if he was a singer-songwriter?" Carroll's answer, the first in a three-song trilogy about United's carelessness and horrendous customer service, is indeed news.

And it's not just a curiosity. Carroll might end up having a positive effect on the world around him. The L.A. Times quotes a United spokeswoman saying, "His video is excellent, and we plan to use it internally as a unique learning and training opportunity to ensure that all our customers receive better service."

Power to the source. Welcome to one little corner of the future.

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433,294 views as of 8:06 this morning. I'm plunking it on Facebook and hoping to add to the viral of it.

@AylinD Huh?
I saw a link to this yesterday evening on ChicagoTribune's site and watched it 3 times. The story is great, the video is great and there's another one on the way. Put it on iTunes!!! I'd buy it!
You should have left the spam, at least it was there, unlike the meatloaf you promised. Yeah, I'm not letting that go. ; D
You want to get a good idea of the future of journalism, or what it should be, CBC's As It Happens. This radio show has always been such a superb mix of old school analytical depth, and quirky regional stories. A band that makes a video like this KNOWS it's going to be a guest on this national nightly news program eventually. And so the viral and the mainstream work together.

Over the last year, as a result of budget cuts, CBC has started diverting funds from it's network journalism to its online journalism. This is sad, but not necessarily a bad thing because the network has so much experience, I think, in getting the right tone of mixing citizen and professional journalism. If journalism heads in that direction it will be a great thing.
absolutely brilliant
This is one way to get their attention. It does seem that customer service jobs can make one numb...it's hard to get anyone to raise an eyebrow in concern anymore.

Some time ago, someone wrote complaining about those of us that don't check luggage, ever. This is one reason why. I'm lucky I play flute, it never has to be checked, but other musicians I know worry a great deal about accordions, fiddles, mandolins and bouzoukis...United breaks those too!
LOL! Ouch.

That's goin' up on my Las Vegas music blog.

Yeah, while sitting at the gate, I once watched in horror as a ground crew dude in Minneapolis (NW Airlines) yanked my 12-string guitar case out the the luggage cart, and just flip-tossed it on to the conveyor. Really made me want to commit my first felony.

We're flying Delta to SLC tomorrow to headline the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival tomorrow night. I have to check a heavy suitcase full of CDs and DVDs for the booth, hoping they don't break and/or steal stuff.

Is United going to compensate him for using his video as a training tool?

Great to see the average Joe using all of his resources to fight back. As technology advances and becomes more intuitive and user friendly, Hollywood and Nashville will become obsolete also.

Here is another good video to educate yourself on the possible speed and direction of media technology.

If the link doesn't work search Youtube for the "Future of Communication".


Make sure you vote and stay informed about access to tax free internet and the absolution of copyright laws. I can't wait for "knowledge flow" to become a reality.
Gulp...and I just got off the plane last night with MY guitar...

I'd better check it, right after breakfast.
It's actually a solid tune.

Five bucks says Taylor throws him a new box.
DON'T check it, beatnik bob ... carry it on.
I used to wonder when people shouted 'power to the people'. Time is here when we aren't going to sit back and accept being used and abused by our elected representatives and our corporations.
Lots of stuff on YouTube, writing to Reps and senators. We need to keep track of the congresspeople and senators who vote against the public interest and vote them out!
This is now the lead story on Yahoo.
I have travelled with a guitar before. Guitars will fit in overhead storage and in the coat closet. I suppose when a group travels with instruments there isn't enough room for all of them in the passenger section. It's baffling to me why airlines don't have some safe way of handling musical instruments -- a portable rack that would fit in the cargo area, or something like that. I'll bet musicians would be willing to pay a little more in order to ensure that their instruments would be handled correctly.

I currently have an expensive handmade flamenco guitar, and there's no way I would entrust that to the baggage handling crew -- especially after watching that video.

And what a wonderful video it is! It's revenge, but revenge with style. By failing to be reasonable, United bought themselves millions of dollars of unflattering publicity.
The audacity of breaking a Taylor guitar!
And I thought I had problems with United. It's fabulous that a video like that can go viral. totally rated
Great song, great story, bad company.