YouTube has many ambitions. They want people to watch hours of video instead of minutes in a day. They want to bring more fine art to the world of online video. And now they want to be your new favorite news anchor, and I think they're going to succeed.
Yesterday YouTube announced on their blog a new initiative aimed at helping breaking news videos to be more easily discovered by viewers. It's called the YouTube News Feed, and you can find it over at Citizen Tube—the standalone YouTube news and politics blog. The YouTube News Feed will aggregate the very best and most newsworthy user-submitted news articles for easy viewing. They'll be getting some help from the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, which knows a thing or two about news.
Here's a bit of their explanation of how this new service came about:
"Whether it's an altercation between a Congressman and a student in Washington, D.C., violent attacks against ethnic minorities in Kyrgyzstan, or oil washing up on a beach in the Gulf Coast, videos uploaded to YouTube by both amateur reporters and professional journalists move through the media ecosystem with a sophistication and speed greater than ever before. "
They then go on to point out how difficult it can be for viewers to sift through the sheer volumes of "noise" videos in order to find breaking news clips. It's the proverbial needle in a haystack… only worse. So in steps the YouTube News Feed, which aims to filter out all that noise and present only the most newsworthy new clips.
And before you go crying about YouTube "curating" your news and thereby censoring what stories you have access to, remember this: Your news has been curated since "news" began. It's just being curated by YouTube now instead of Gannet or the AP. There has always been someone standing at the gates deciding which stories were newsworthy enough for the masses.
This announcement is fantastic news that could lead to a whole new variety of viral video trend—the breaking news video. When my home of Nashville was hit by a thousand-year flood six weeks ago, I wrote here about how online video proved its power and importance to me, helping me find information about roads and damage and neighborhoods that the local news crews simply couldn't deliver.
Here's the fundamental reason: news crews are finite. There are only so many employees of your local news channel. Some are reporters, some are camera people, and others are editors and directors. But there are only so many of them, and no more. They can only cover so much ground. They also need to leave headquarters to get out to where the news is happening, by car or helicopter.
But citizens? Well, there are way more of us. We outnumber the news professionals 10,000 to 1. And when news like rising flood waters takes place in our own backyard, well, we have a huge head start on the news crew (who probably can't even find enough passable roads to get here).
And with the age of ubiquitous smart phones and Flip cameras, combined with the ease of uploading videos to sites like YouTube (which you can do straight from your phone), we can now film and upload news events long before the standard news employees can. In cases like the Nashville flood, the traditional news is literally unable to get to certain areas where news is occurring… but there are citizens there with cameras.
We're still a long way from citizens with Flip cameras replacing the normal news industry. But that doesn't mean that average Joe's like you and me can't contribute to the news—or in some cases even scoop the news people on a story. It has happened, and it will continue to happen. YouTube is trying to help foster an environment that will allow citizen news to thrive. They want to be your new go-to channel for breaking news by letting you be the anchor.
Is this a shift in "news" philosophy for YouTube and parent company Google? Hasn't Google previously said they are just aggregators, and not a news organization--at least with print news? This new announcement from YouTube makes the video site--at least--look like something more than "just an aggregator." It looks like a full on news content provider. And I'm okay with that, because they're filling a void.
This is a good move—a potentially huge move. News doesn't make it easy for us, and just break out in areas where there are already reporters from newspapers or TV stations. It just breaks wherever it darn well pleases. But the odds of there being a citizen with a camera standing nearby have rocketed up in the last year or two. Which means that we, the viewers, get even more immediate access to breaking news stories of interest to us… and how can that be a bad thing?