Sometime toward the end of the day on Friday, while many of us were firing off last minute emails and powering down our PCs for the weekend, something dramatic and shocking was going down at UC Davis. UC Davis students affiliated with the nationwide "Occupy" protests, engaged in a locked-arm peaceful sit-in protest on the university campus were pepper sprayed, point blank, multiple times by multiple police officers. The two days that have followed have proven online video has officially taken over for television news.
UC Davis Pepper Spray Video
There are multiple videos of this event, and a great many of them have viral-type view counts (several hundred thousand or a few million). Most of these were shot hand-held with cell phone cameras. That so many versions have gained traction with viewers shows how much the country is paying attention to this story.
Let's get it out of the way and show the video. Here's the first one I saw, and it was definitely not easy to watch:
Viewers seem to be divided into two camps: First is the group that thinks you should do what the cops tell you to, and if you don't... then you probably deserve a pepper spraying. And second is the group that says our right to peaceful demonstration is sacred, and overrides cops asking you to move.
It's a controversial subject, and not one I would claim to be an expert in. But I will say this: it's unsettling to me how calm that whole scene is... it's like a pepper spray execution.
YouTube Killed the Evening News
There are many important things to say about this video and online video in general, but I'll try to just hit the main points:
YouTube drives the news now, not reporters. TV news reporters are nothing more than readers, at this point. In the case of this specific UC Davis news story, an entire world of newscasters and reporters have done nothing more than regurgitate reactions to this video. Sure, there are interviews out there with school officials or citizens. Any decent journalist can fill out a story.
But the first pebble that fell off the top of the mountain to start this whole avalanche in the first place? That was a simple citizen journalist, filming an event and uploading it to YouTube. Only when that video went viral did the TV news crews learn about the story and begin to care---think about that... the only reason this became a news story on TV is because it became one on YouTube first.
The evening news no longer creates news content, they just curate the news content of larger organizations (AP) and the Internet (YouTube). Amazing.
YouTube is the ultimate fact checker. How do I know? Because school officials originally lied about this event, suggesting the students were less peaceful than they clearly are... suggesting the officers had been surrounded by students and feared for their safety.
Now, let's remember one thing here: we don't have the whole story. This video has a beginning and an ending, and we know exactly nothing about what happened before and after the events in the clip. For all I know the students were pointing guns at the cops just seconds before the camera was turned on. Doubtful... but it's important to keep in mind that this is only part of the story.
But... with that disclaimer out of the way, let's talk about how YouTube became a wall of truth that the university officials' fibs ran smack into. Because when you watch that video, it almost doesn't matter what the students might have been doing before the filming began... because once filming began, they're clearly sitting peacefully on the sidewalk... not confronting or surrounding anyone. It's pretty hard to fool the public about what happened when there were a dozen citizen journalists covering the event with their iPhone.
Some school officials have since called for the removal of the chancellor, and the police officers in the video have apparently been placed on leave, according to the New York Times.
News destinations are changing. As an example, when you heard about the pepper-spraying incident (assuming you heard about it before reading this post), was your first thought, "I need to go sit down in front of the TV and wait for the next edition of the evening news to start so that I can see this outrageous video"??
Or... maybe... was it, "I'm going to Google that or search YouTube for it, where I'll find it in ten seconds and not have to wait at all to get my news"?