Increasingly, eyewitnesses who find themselves caught in some tragedy are recording their experiences and posting their videos online. And more and more news organizations are incorporating user-generated content into their news offerings.
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism examined 15 months worth of the most popular news videos on YouTube, the online video-sharing site purchased by Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) in 2006 for $1.65 billion in stock. The findings reveal that a symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and news organizations on YouTube. People not only are creating and sharing their own news videos, they are actively sharing news videos produced by journalism professionals as well.
The problem is that there are no clear ethical standards on how to attribute the video content that ends up in this “synergistic sharing loop.” News organizations sometimes post content from eyewitnesses without any clear attribution to the original producer. And citizens post copyrighted material without permission. The circumstances are ripe for the appearance of news that is manufactured, or even falsified.
Other findings of the Pew study of popular YouTube news videos include:
- The most popular news videos tended to depict natural disasters or political upheaval featuring intense visuals, such as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
- More than a third of the most watched news videos were clearly identified as coming from citizens, and some video identified as coming from a news organization appeared to have been originally shot by users rather than journalists.
- Personalities do not drive the popularity of news videos. No one individual was featured in even 5% of the most popular videos studied, and 65% did not feature any individual at all.
- The popularity of news can, for a time, outpace even the biggest entertainment videos. In 2011, videos concerning the Japanese tsunami and the killing of Osama bin Laden were among those that proved wildly popular.
It is clear that YouTube is becoming an important platform by which people acquire news. More than 70% of adults have used sites like YouTube, finds a different Pew study. And 28% visit such sites daily. It looks like the new age of citizen journalists may be here to stay.