Cute kitty viral videos: your 15 minutes of fame are up.
YouTube is no longer just the repository of the cute, the weird, the shocking -- although it is still that -- but a major platform for viewing news, from raw video of massacres in Syria to an analysis of Mitt Romney's campaign.
A study to be released today by the Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism found that "a complex, symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and news organizations on YouTube," the third-largest viewed website in the world after Google (which owns YouTube) and Facebook.
A 15-month examination of the site's most popular news videos has found more than a third of the most watched videos (39 percent) came from citizens.
Another 51 percent had a news organization logo on the video, but some of that footage was generated by citizens as well.
And many videos produced by news organizations were posted by individual users.
"It's basically this interplay between citizens as journalists and users of YouTube," said Amy Mitchell, deputy director of the Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism.
"We looked at who was capturing and creating it, and who was posting it, and found that there was a real mix taking place."
YouTube, she stressed, is about video news sharing, not commentary or text sharing, Ms. Mitchell said. And there are still issues with attribution and authenticity yet to be resolved, she added. "Either news organizations are not crediting citizens, or citizens are actually posting without respect to copyright ... but it's still clear within what we can tell that there's this interplay."
Also, one person's definition of news may differ from another's. The Pew report found the top producer of news videos was Russia Today, a relatively new news organization backed by the Russian government, which mostly posts eyewitness videos describing an event but has been known to engage in conspiracy theories.
But not every news organization is embracing YouTube, the Pew report noted. Some, like CNN, have posted more than 30,000 videos on YouTube since the site emerged in 2006.
Fox News, on the other hand, has posted only 128 -- even though viewers, on their own, posted large numbers of Fox News videos, and not always in a positive light, the report said. Six of the nine Fox News clips were "posted by viewers that, through labeling, were clearly meant to highlight and criticize controversial comments made by the channel's pundits or guests."
YouTube officials insist they're not trying to replace traditional news media.
"We're not in the business of creating content," said Tom Sly, head of News and Education at YouTube. "There's a huge opportunity for traditional media organizations on YouTube. We provide the technology platform, and any news organization can start a channel as another outlet for their content."
Case in point: the Japanese tsunami and the Arab Spring saw tens of millions of views of YouTube video uploaded by both eyewitnesses and news organizations, he said, noting outlets like the New York Times, which have their own news video channels, still use YouTube footage to enhance their coverage -- as with the current violence in Syria.
Perhaps, but YouTube is getting into the business of curating content in collaboration with other news organizations, from Reuters and CBS to news aggregators like Storyful.com.
On Friday, for example, CitizenTube.com, a YouTube news feed, posted a video titled "Romney targets key demographics amid attacks on his record," with a short introductory paragraph noting, "It has been a mixed few days on the campaign trail for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. While he has tried to target key demographics, such as the NAACP, he has been attacked on everything from his overseas business interests to his being endorsed by Ted Nugent."
That was followed by links to videos from the Romney and Obama campaigns, the Washington Post, ABC News and other YouTube partners.
In the end, YouTube may present "both an opportunity for news, and a potential threat," Ms. Mitchell said. "Any time one of these new social media realms emerges, there's a loss of control."
Mr. Sly seemed to take a more conciliatory approach, noting that professional journalists will still be needed because "they help make sense of an overwhelming amount of content and provide their professional analysis and interpretation."
With 72 hours of content uploaded on YouTube every minute, "this is a really important role. What the Pew report shows is an emerging symbiosis between citizens who happen to be in the right place to capture a powerful moment, and news organizations that can analyze, verify and put important context around this footage and share it with an even wider audience."
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