The data reveal that a complex, symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and news organizations on YouTube, a relationship that comes close to the continuous journalistic "dialogue" many observers predicted would become the new journalism online. Citizens are creating their own videos about news and posting them. They are also actively sharing news videos produced by journalism professionals. And news organizations are taking advantage of citizen content and incorporating it into their journalism. Consumers, in turn, seem to be embracing the interplay in what they watch and share, creating a new kind of television news.
Among the key findings of this study:
- The most popular news videos tended to depict natural disasters or political upheaval-usually featuring intense visuals. With a majority of YouTube traffic (70%) outside the U.S., the three most popular storylines worldwide over the 15-month period were non-U.S. events. The Japanese earthquake and tsunami was No. 1 (and accounted for 5% of all the 260 videos), followed by elections in Russia (5%) and unrest in the Middle East (4%).
- News events are inherently more ephemeral than other kinds of information, but at any given moment news can outpace even the biggest entertainment videos. In 2011, news events were the most searched term on YouTube four months out of 12, according to YouTube's internal data: the Japanese Earthquake, the killing of Osama bin Laden, a fatal motorcycle accident, and news of a homeless man who spoke with what those producing the video called a "god-given gift of voice." Yet over time certain entertainment videos can have a cumulative appeal that will give them higher viewership.
- Citizens play a substantial role in supplying and producing footage. More than a third of the most watched videos (39%) were clearly identified as coming from citizens. Another 51% bore the logo of a news organization, though some of that footage, too, appeared to have been originally shot by users rather than journalists. (5% came from corporate and political groups, and the origin of another 5% was not identified.)