A new report by the Pew Research Center revealed how much the source of news has changed around the world, as a significant portion of Internet users use YouTube as their primary source for visual journalism.
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism examined 15 months’ worth of the most popular news videos on the site (January 2011 to March 2012), analyzing the nature of the video, the topics that were viewed most often, who produced them and who posted them.
Recognizing this new world of journalism, the major networks have taken to posting their stories on YouTube themselves, hoping to increase their viewership this way. But the downside for them is that it becomes much harder to make money from their viewership this way, as compared to the old formula of the viewers coming to their television channels.
The research found that the most popular videos tended to be related to natural disasters or political upheavals. As an example, the report focused on the Japanese earthquake in March 2011 that triggered the tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people and resulted in $180 billion in damage. In the week following the disaster, the 20 most viewed videos on YouTube all focused on the tsunami and were viewed more than 96 million times by people around the world.
The Japanese earthquake was followed in popularity by the Russian elections and unrest in the Middle East.
“The data reveal that a complex, symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and news organizations on YouTube, a relationship that comes close to the continuous journalistic ‘dialogue’ many observers predicted would become the new journalism online,” the report said. “Citizens are creating their own videos about news and posting them. They are also actively sharing news videos produced by journalism professionals. And news organizations are taking advantage of citizen content and incorporating it into their journalism. Consumers, in turn, seem to be embracing the interplay in what they watch and share, creating a new kind of television news.”
But the report warned that many dangers are inherent in a world where many viewers are turning to YouTube for their real-world news, namely that there’s a significant possibility that news can be “manufactured, or even falsified.”
“Clear ethical standards have not developed on how to attribute the video content moving through the synergistic sharing loop,” the report said. “Even though YouTube offers guidelines on how to attribute content, it’s clear that not everyone follows them, and certain scenarios fall outside those covered by the guidelines. News organizations sometimes post content that was apparently captured by citizen eyewitnesses without any clear attribution as to the original producer. Citizens are posting copyrighted material without permission. And the creator of some material cannot be identified. 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.”