Changing Viewing Habits Mean Changing The News
Doug Bernard | Washington DC
Here’s a statistic to make your eyes roll: every minute of every day, more than 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. That’s 180 days – nearly half a year’s worth of video – posted on one website every 24 hours.
With numbers like that, it’s nearly impossible to speak accurately about just what’s ending up on YouTube. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a lot of it is cats riding Roombas, blurry vacation footage, homemade music videos and various embarrassing acts caught on mobile phones.
But according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, a growing percentage of that video is serious news. And whether it’s topical or historic, professionally produced or filmed on the fly, more and more people are turning to YouTube as a source for news and current events. Moreover, much of that amateur video is now finding its way back into the more traditional stories produced by established journalism organizations like this one.
In short, YouTube is becoming one of the world’s most influential news organizations without even a single reporter on staff.
Erasing the Line Between Citizen and Journalist
The Pew study uses last year’s earthquake and tsunami as a first example. Nearly every news organization on the planet had extensive coverage of the ensuring disaster. “In the seven days following the disaster,” write reporter co-authors Tom Rosenstiel and Amy Mitchell, “the 20 most viewed news-related videos on YouTube all focused on the tragedy – and were viewed more than 96 million times.”
In and of itself, that probably isn’t too surprising. It’s only natural that people would turn to any source for more information about such a major event. What is surprising, however, is just who was making that video, and how it was being used. Write Rosenstiel and Mitchell:
“What people saw in these videos also represented a new kind of visual journalism. Most of that footage was recorded by citizen eyewitnesses who found themselves caught in the tragedy. Some of that video was posted by the citizens themselves. Most of this citizen-footage, however, was posted by news organizations incorporating user-generated content into their news offerings. The most watched video of all was shot by what appeared to be fixed closed-circuit surveillance camera at the Sendai airport.”
Making their point further, that particular video – shot essentially by robot – was immediately picked up by up-and-comer TV network RT and slapped on YouTube, generating 20-million views and counting for the network.
The merry-go-round of user generated content ending up in professional news products, which are then shared and re-posted by viewers via social media, is a dynamic the Pew authors argue is re-shaping the news industry.
Worth at least a couple reads, “YouTube & News” contains findings large and small, surprising and not-so, and lots of data about how news videos become popular. At 28 thick pages, there’s genuinely too many figures and hypotheses to be summarized, save to say this: news organizations are struggling to find and keep video-hungry audiences, and YouTube as a platform yields up hundreds of millions of potential viewers. The debate is now how to capture that audience, and how much of a role the citizen will come to play in professional journalism.
Because in the future, if it’s in the news, it’s on YouTube.