More people turning to YouTube for breaking news

Steven Loeb · July 16, 2012 · Short URL:

Japanese tsunami videos garnered over 96 million hits in one week


When I think of YouTube, I think of videos of cute cats, a funny viral video of someone getting their 15 minutes by doing something foolish (hey, remember the Chocolate Rain guy?) and a place to listen to songs that I can’t find on Spotify. One thing I do not especially think of when it comes to YouTube is breaking news.

YouTube has now become BreakingTube. 

Yet, for some, that is exactly what the site had become: yet another social media tool to bring them news from around the world, according to a new study by The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

On top of that, it is not only professional news organizations that are having an effect, but average citizens holding a video camera.

The study looked at the 260 most popular videos on the “news and politics” channel on YouTube for the 15-month period between January 2011 to March 2012.

“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. Citizens are creating their own videos about news and posting them,” Pew said in the report

Pew found that the most popular news videos worldwide were those of natural disaster, most specifically the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, which made up 5% of the most popular videos.

The election in Russia also accounted for 5% of videos, followed by the Arab Spring, with 4%.

The Japanese earthquake was so popular on YouTube, in fact, that in the week after, the top 20 news videos were all focused on that one event. The total views for those 20 videos totaled over 96 million.

“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,” the study says. 

Around 39% of the most watched news videos were from citizens, while 51% was from a major news organization, though it should be noted that they did broadcast footage also taken by average citizens. 5% of the videos were from corporate and political groups.

The most popular videos often did not even feature any people in them. The most popular person in news videos was President Barack Obama, but no individual appeared in 5% of the top news videos, with 65% having nobody in them at all.

The length of the video also had no effect on its popularity, with 29% of them being under one minute, 33% being two to five minutes and 18% over five minutes.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether YouTube really can become another social media tool, like Twitter and Facebook, which have been credited with bringing people all over the world together in dialogue, while helping to promote pro-democratic movements in countries in the Middle East.

Something tells me, though, that most people still just want to watch the funny cat video.

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