Since its online debut in early 2005, YouTube continues to grow as a news outlet for people who are expanding the ways in which they consume news coverage, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
And as that happens, YouTube is creating "a new kind of visual journalism" that is sometimes blurring the line between content created by official news organizations, "citizen journalists" or others, according to Pew. Ultimately, while this means that more people are being exposed to news of world events, it's also raising questions about whether those video reports are always receiving the proper attribution and context that they should have, according to the study.
"What this first and foremost offers is another platform, another path, where people can get news and information in a different way from network or cable news," said Amy Mitchell, the deputy director of the Pew Excellence in Journalism project. But because YouTube.com doesn't create any of the content on the Website, the video news submissions are posted without any editing or review by YouTube.The site does offer suggested guidelines for attribution for the videos, but it is advisory and not mandatory.
A key result of this, according to the study's conclusions, "is that clear ethical protocols about attribution have not developed and users may at times have no clear way of knowing the source."
That needs to continue to evolve, said Mitchell. "Attribution still needs to be better."
The new study, "YouTube and News: A New Kind of Visual News," examined 15 months' worth of the most popular news videos from January 2011 through March 2012, according to Pew.
Most of the news videos or 59 percent were from commercial news networks, while another 39 percent were from people who found themselves at the scene of a news event and could record it on video. Interestingly, sometimes the coverage was a mix of the two.
"Some of those professional news videos, moreover, clearly contained footage captured by citizens, though it was not explicitly attributed as such," according to the study. "Another 5 percent of the most-watched videos came from newsmakers themselves, and 5 percent were not labeled in a way that made it possible to know the producer."
The most popular news videos "tended to depict natural disasters or political upheaval-usually featuring intense visuals," according to the report." The three most popular storylines over the 15-month period were non-U.S. events (70 percent of YouTube's audience is international). The Japanese earthquake and tsunami was No. 1 (and accounted for 5 percent of all the 260 most-watched videos), followed by elections in Russia (5 percent) and unrest in the Middle East (4 percent)."
The increased use of YouTube as a news source is not uncommon since the development of the Internet, Mitchell said.
"When new media appears, people use them to add to their news sources," said Mitchell. "This has happened before. They turn to local television for one kind of news, to local newspapers for another kind and to sites like YouTube for other news. It's broadening the way people get news, but it doesnt mean they are giving up one for another."
Since much of what viewers see on YouTube is from network news departments, its the same content but just in a different forum.
In the 15 months of the study, the 20 most-viewed, news-related videos on YouTube.com featured coverage of the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan in March of 2011. The videos, which included surveillance video at Sendai airport that graphically showed the arrival of the tsunami, were viewed more than 96 million times in the seven days immediately following the disaster.
"The news media worldwide provided extensive coverage of the disaster and its aftermath, but millions of people also turned to the Web to learn about the event on the video-sharing Website YouTube," the study reported. Interest was high because the powerful quake and tsunami killed more than 18,000 people, caused more than $180 billion in damage and affected global imports, exports and markets.
At the same time, though, while YouTube's role in reporting news to a widening segment of the population continues to expand, network news broadcasts on television are still seen by more people, the study said. "While those top 20 tsunami videos were viewed 96 million times worldwide the week of the disaster, for instance, more people almost certainly watched on local and national television around the globe," the report concluded. "Twenty-two million people on average watch the evening news on the three broadcast channels each night in the United States alone, and larger numbers watch local TV newscasts."
Christine Greenhow, an assistant professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University, said the use of YouTube as a new news source and as a news outlet for a growing segment of the population especially young people who are large users of YouTube can be a good thing.
"One of the things I think about is how to educate young people for this new world and this new world marketplace," Greenhow said. "One of the things we struggle with is how to educate young people to be good digital citizens such as legally using information online and copyright issues. We are at an exciting and challenging time. Young people who never had a voice before now can have one."
Greenhow agrees, however, that better attribution is needed for online video on sites like YouTube. "In terms of [always having] responsible news producers [on YouTube], I dont think we're there yet. But I'm really encouraged by opening the conversations."