Citizen Journalism On YouTube Revolutionizes The Way We Consume News

By Megan O'Neill 

For years, when people wanted to get their news fix online they turned to sites like CNN, The BBC, The New York Times or their own local paper and news channel sites.  Today, more news hounds than ever are turning to YouTube for the latest on what’s going on around the globe.  A new study from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reveals that “a new form of video journalism” has emerged on YouTube.

Amy Mitchell, deputy director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) explains, “The relationship between news organizations and citizens is more dynamic and more multiverse than we’ve seen in most other platforms before.”

Whereas we used to watch third-party coverage of events, told from thousands of miles away with helicopter footage and blurry photos, today we can get up close and personal through first-person encounters from citizen journalists on the scene.  We’ve watched chilling scenes of the Japanese tsunami, footage from the Arab Spring protests around the Middle East, earthquakes, accounts from Ugandans following Kony 2012 going viral and more.

Mitchell says, “One of the things that emerges here is the power of bearing witness as a part of a news consumption process.  Many of the most viewed stories that we’re looking at here have real powerful imagery around them.”  This imagery makes news stories more real and more engaging than ever.

When most people think you YouTube they think of things like keyboard-playing cats, Justin Bieber, and ‘Call Me Maybe’ parodies, not news.  But if you stop to think back on the biggest news stories over the past couple of years and how they were covered on the news you’ll realize that even the biggest news sources are turning to YouTube for visuals to go with their breaking stories.  CNN even has it’s own network for citizen journalists, iReport.

Paul Farhi of The Washington Post reports that, “Videos related to the 2011 tsunami and its aftermath were the most heavily viewed of any in YouTube’s ‘news and politics’ category tracked by PEJ during a 15-month period starting in January 2011.  The 20 most-viewed tsunami videos collectively had 96 million views.”

Farhi writes, “Unlike a traditional news organization, which produces most of its own material or obtains it from other professional sources, YouTube features news videos that come from all over.”  While videos shot by TV news organizations brought in over half the views on the videos ranked by PEJ, citizen-produced videos accounted for almost 40 percent of the total views, which is huge.

Of course, Mitchell is sure to point out that YouTube “is a young platform and there’re certainly aspects of this interplay and the way information is going to flow that’s still being worked out.”  Videos uploaded to YouTube are sometimes difficult to confirm and it’s not unheard of for news organizations to air videos that later turn out to be fabricated, such as this fake video of a cat playing the guitar and being interrupted by an earthquake, which was featured by the likes of Yahoo!, NBC and more (here’s the original).

That being said, YouTube has surely made the world much smaller, enabling us to really see and understand events that are occurring on the other side of the globe.  We’d love to hear your thoughts on the rise of citizen journalism on YouTube.  Please leave your comments below!

Image credit: 1000 Words /

Megan O’Neill is the resident web video enthusiast here at Social Times.  Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.