By Laura Oliver
Since first beginnings in February 2005, the video-sharing website YouTube has gained a reputation for hosting the web's most weird and wonderful clips and turning individual users into viral sensations, such as 'Fred', whose channel has had over 15 million views.
Yet a growing list of news providers are joining forces with the Google-owned portal to launch video channels: last week the BBC added six news streams in Urdu, Spanish, Russian, Persian, Portuguese and Arabic.
The Associated Press, ITN News, Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg and CNN – to name but a few – all have an official YouTube presence, and many have taken advantage of the site's recently launched reporter channel, which highlights news videos from both amateur and professional journalists.
The launch of the reporter channel, an additional citizen news channel, and a YouTube competition for aspiring journalists in association with the Pulitzer Center, Project:Report, all add weight to the site's news and video journalism plans.
For the first round, which closed yesterday, users were asked to submit a video, in English, of less than three minutes, profiling someone in their community. So far 84 videos, including an interview with the mother of a man missing in Colombia and a profile of Holocaust survivor Sigi Isaak, have been uploaded by entrants.
But can YouTube gain a reputation as a credible source of user-generated news video or is its journalism programme misdirected?
According to Steve Grove, head of news and politics for YouTube, the recent launches aimed at journalists are a response to an existing and growing trend amongst users on the site.
"Project:Report is, in part, a response to the number of users we've noticed who are already uploading news content to YouTube. They're creating videos on stories that might otherwise not be told and offering new perspectives on events covered by the traditional media," says Grove, in an email interview with Journalism.co.uk.
"YouTube has always been about giving people a platform and a channel through which to communicate to the world. We think that the fact that anyone can participate in reporting the news and can tell important, yet under-reported stories, fits squarely into YouTube's core mission."
The 'reputation for being irreverent at times' won't conflict with the site's journalism programme, he adds, but is a result of putting 'the power of media control in the hands of everyday citizens'.
"[T]hey [users] aren't going to upload the same types of content as our professional content partners, like the New York Times, BBC, and Reuters, do."
Partnering with the Pulitzer Center, which has helped design the competition and will judge entries from the first round, undoubtedly adds gravitas to the project.
'How To' videos produced by journalists from the center, including reports on the Center's work on HIV/AIDS in Jamaica and the rehabilitation of ex-child soldiers in Liberia, will be broadcast on YouTube for each round of the three stage competition.
For the center, linking up with YouTube is part of a multi-platform approach to distribution, which includes supplying content for NewsHour, LinkTV and the US public television program, Foreign Exchange.
The site's other functions and its reputation are not an issue, says Jon Sawyer, executive director for the Pulitzer Center.
"The Center is dedicated to bringing its journalism to as many people through as many platforms as possible. I don't think it's a question of a single 'best platform' for serious investigative video journalism. The great appeal of YouTube is (a) its huge audience, and (b) its accessibility to emerging videographers. We very definitely want to be part of the YouTube conversation."
Central to Project:Report is the prize of a $10,000 grant to report on any topic, from anywhere in the world, and a scholarship at the Pulitzer Center.
Grove hopes the competition will expose new sources of news for budding journalists as well as news organisations.
"I think the site already is a breeding ground for new journalistic talent. We've seen citizen journalists catch the attention of the media on YouTube and get jobs in the mainstream because of their work," he says.
"[O]ur hope is that not only will the community [that] we're building on the site around news grow, but that traditional media outlets will look to YouTube as a source for alternative stories they might not have discovered otherwise."
YouTube's journalism programme could provide a collaborative solution to the decline in traditional foreign correspondents, adds Grove.
"News organisations could never afford to have a correspondent in every corner of the world with an eye on every story as it unfolds - but in today's media landscape, millions of people around the world have the ability to contribute to reporting the news and broadcasting it globally. There is clearly a huge opportunity there."
Taking on the mainstream media?
From YouTube's perspective, news videos from users could help plug a gap in international and hyperlocal coverage, while the site continues to develop relations with 'professional content partners'.
This is because it is not about traditional journalism versus 'citizen journalism,' nor an either/or situation, says Sawyer.
"To us the real issue is not enough good reporting on topics of urgent importance. We want to break down the barriers to entry to traditional journalism while at the same time upholding the best of traditional journalism values," he explains.
"We think if we do that well we'll create journalism from out of the YouTube community that meets the quality test of any 'traditional' journalist."
What is more, YouTube's journalism aspirations are a means to attract 'new news consumers', says Sawyer.
"[P]eople, especially younger people, may be attuned to YouTube but have no regular contact with old-style newspapers or broadcast news. We want to engage them in global issues and thus we're seeking them out where they are, in venues like YouTube."
See the story as it ran at journalism.co.uk
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