Nearly every major TV news organization has glommed onto the citizen journalism phenomenon. Networks ranging from CNN to Fox News to CBS regularly encourage users to submit cellphone videos or eyewitness reports of news happenings via their Web properties.
Now YouTube is set to roll out a free tool that will enable any news-oriented site to automatically become a hub for user-produced news videos. The company has introduced YouTube Direct, an open source platform that any interested news site can tap into and begin soliciting content from its users. The Google-owned company has already begun testing YouTube Direct with The Huffington Post, NPR.com, Politico.com and the Web sites for the San Francisco Chronicle and WHDH-TV/WLVI-TV in Boston, Mass.
According to Steve Grove, head of news and politics at YouTube, news sites can easily add Direct to their sites; start requesting specific content from users (such as eyewitness videos of the most recent hurricane, for example); and then decide for themselves what clips are used on their own sites when. The tool is designed to be customizable, allowing news sites to create a product that looks and feels like the rest of their Web site. “This is like a virtual assignment desk,” said Grove.
Throughout YouTube’s history, users have posted news-oriented clips, said Grove. But those have been tough for news sites to find in a timely fashion, making it hard for them to leverage.
“Citizen journalism is one of the most interesting phenomenon on YouTube," he said—citing Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 election as examples. “But news organizations have had a hard time tapping into that. Videos are hard to find, verification can be tough and there is not really a great way on the site to target contributors….This is about giving our news community something they are asking for.”
News organizations do not have to pay to use YouTube Direct, and at least initially, YouTube is not viewing the product as a revenue generator. Rather the product is being introduced to increase the volume of videos on the site and provide users yet another reason to increase their visits, said YouTube officials.
But won’t it be difficult for news organizations that start using YouTube Direct to compete with the CNNs of the world, which have a head start when it comes to tapping into their audience’s willingness to contribute?
Those big news sites will have a tough time matching the “community effect” that YouTube possess, argues Grove. Any content that is posted to a news organization's site will also become available to YouTube’ roughly 100 million unique monthly user base.
“When people think of citizen journalism, people think of YouTube. It’s about community.”