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7/16/2012
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YouTube Transforms News Coverage

Accounts of natural disasters and political upheaval are biggest draws among news videos.

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George Orwell's attempt to depict the future in words was decidedly pessimistic: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--forever," he wrote in his classic novel 1984.

He'd have done better to a look at YouTube, where vivid accounts of natural disasters and political upheavals are documented for all to see. More and more, YouTube is where people are turning to see breaking news and to file raw video of events they have witnessed.

In 2011, 71% of U.S. adults used sites such as YouTube or Vimeo, up from 66% the previous year, according to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. Some 28% of YouTube's users visit daily.

YouTube serves over 4 billion video views every day and its audience is global: About 30% of those visitors come from the U.S., the company says. And that worldwide platform has become vital for both citizen reporters and traditional media organizations.

[ Read Apple: Exiting EPEAT Environmental Program Was Mistake. ]

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) studied 260 videos on YouTube's "News & Politics" channel and found an evolving, symbiotic relationship developing between traditional news outlets and citizen journalists.

YouTube is not so much killing traditional TV journalism as it is transforming it. Over a third of the most-watched news videos come from individuals, the PEJ found. Although 51% of news videos bore the logos of recognized news organizations, even many of those reports were augmented by video submitted by individuals.

In addition to creating the raw video that becomes part of mainstream news reports, citizens also are acting as de facto news editors by distributing professionally produced news segments. Some 39% of professionally produced news videos on YouTube's News & Politics channel were posted by YouTube users. This suggests professional news organizations will have to become more engaged with social media to retain their editorial voice.

At the same time, the PEJ observes that standards for attribution and authentication remain in flux. Sources sometimes do not receive proper credit and copyrighted material sometimes gets posted without permission, according to the PEJ.

"All this creates the potential for news to be manufactured, or even falsified, without giving audiences much ability to know who produced it or how to verify it," the PEJ warns, noting that 5% of the videos in its survey came from corporate and political groups, and that the provenance of another 5% was not made clear.

The PEJ characterizes the reaction of news organizations to YouTube as a mixture of participation and resistance. Judging by the size of YouTube's growing audience, resistance doesn't appear to be a very promising approach.

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