BREAKING NEWS AND BREAKING JOURNALISTS

In-site-ful access eliminates the middle man as DIY news reporters take to YouTube to bring viewers round the clock coverage from an insider’s perspective.

Three men sit in an eerie room, machine guns pointed sharply at their heads. The video is grainy and shaken whilst voices mumble almost inaudibly in the background. The footage is from behind the violent borders of ISIS controlled territory, filmed by members of the famed terror group themselves. The video is journalism gold, a first hand perspective that any journalist would be praised for bringing to the public domain, however there was no journalist involved. ISIS captured, produced and distributed the video themselves to millions of people instantly, all by simply uploading the video to YouTube.

ISIS YouTube video showing the beheading of British man Alan Henning.

It’s 6 o’clock on a Tuesday evening and John Oakes has just returned from work. He dumps his briefcase, grabs a cold beer from the fridge and sits down to watch the latest stories breaking around the world. John watches the first 30 seconds of a story, sipping slowly on his beverage. For decades John would have relied on the evening news bulletin, the morning paper or, most recently, online news sites for the day’s headlines. However, since YouTube began in 2006, up to the minute news has become more accessible than ever.

Worth more than $40 billion, YouTube is the third most viewed website on the planet. It revolves around its key catch phrase “Broadcast Yourself” which it allows millions of people to do daily on the site. Each month, more than a million viewers clock up 6 billion hours watching the videos uploaded onto the site by anyone and everyone. Each minute, more than 300 hours of video is uploaded to the site from almost every country around the world.

John recalls being at the office last month when the Nepal earthquake hit where he took out his smartphone to hop onto YouTube. “What I saw was shocking, I was watching actual footage minutes after the quake hit, I couldn’t believe it.” John continues by highlighting that this is a key example of how journalism has evolved through the use of YouTube, saying that he would never have got to see that raw footage on the television. “They always send reporters who have no idea what actually happened and think that standing in front of the place where the news happened is enough for the audience but in today’s world, where information is becoming ever more accessible, it’s just not enough.”

The success of YouTube as a first hand insight into breaking news can be held responsible for the increasing redundancy of the middleman; the journalist. Gone are the days where journalists are the only people capable of publicizing and broadcasting news to a wide audience. Now anyone, anywhere can distribute their message to millions of people instantly, changing the dynamic of journalism forever.

Scrolling through YouTube’s homepage it is clear why it has become so influential. Doing a quick search of the term “news” shows results on everything and anything from the latest celebrity happenings to first hand videos from inside war-torn Syria. It could be mistaken for the newsreel in any large newsroom, filled with varying, exclusive and constantly updating videos, except for one obvious difference. These videos are available to anyone around the world with access to the Internet. The many functions such as “viewers who watched this also watched…”, “latest uploads” and “most watched videos” further enhance the interactive, personalized news experience YouTube provides. An experience that traditional television news bulletins simply cannot keep up with.

Suggested videos on YouTube illustrating the range of news videos available on the site.

Journalist Toby Wright uses the example of ISIS to highlight just how YouTube has changed the face of news forever. “ISIS has recently employed a highly qualified social media expert to monitor their YouTube account, with each of their videos generating million of views almost instantly after being uploaded.,” he says, insisting that they are not the only organisation to take social media so seriously. “These groups understand and have utilized the fact that they no longer need to speak through journalists, rather they can use something as simple as YouTube to create an open channel of communication between those directly involved and the greater public,” Toby says. ISIS’s shocking videos feature violence and propaganda aimed to infiltrate the wider population and spread as rapidly as possible. They post frequently at popular times when most users are online and use a variety of search terms to get the video seen by as many people as possible, illustrating their complex understanding of YouTube as a powerful force of influence. Toby says that, as a journalist today, it is almost impossible to report many stories without using these first hand YouTube videos. “If I’m going to write a story on ISIS I will go to YouTube first, even as a journalist myself. The insider scoop doesn’t get much better than that.”

The lightning fast spread of YouTube videos compared to old fashion news avenues can be also attributed to the interdependence of social media websites. 21-year-old Bre Chapman is an avid social media user and says she only receives and passes on news stories through social media. “When I hop onto Facebook or Twitter there are hundred of links to YouTube the friends have posted, news spreads like butter online.” She explains that while she may not see every leading news story online like you would on the evening news, social media exposes her to what she wants to see and what would be of interest to her.

Bre also suggests that the appeal of YouTube is that it is reducing the need for journalists, explaining, “it cuts out all of the nonsense, there’s no bias, no annoying comments, just the actual story captured by people who actually experienced that.” With research showing that in a 30-minute news bulletin there is not more than 7 minutes of actual news it is easy to see why Bre refuses to watch television news bulletins anymore. “Look, anyone who wants to know the latest breaking stories should be looking to YouTube. I can learn more from watching YouTube for 30 seconds than watching the entire nightly news broadcast” she explains.

Tweet from a witness of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings
Tweet from witness to 2009 plane crash in the Hudson River in New York City

It’s not just hard news stories that journalists are no longer needed for, lifestyle pieces and entertainment and sport news pieces are also constantly uploaded. TMZ’s YouTube channel typically racks up more than 1 million views per upload, featuring the top celebrity and lifestyle stories of the day. They post amateur footage shot first hand and have covered everything from the Royal Wedding to Paris Hilton going to gaol and everything in between. Their viewers are attracted to the 24/7 style of news reporting, with multiple videos being uploaded each day in real time. Avid viewer Kelly Foster finds it trivial that traditional news reporters cannot keep up. “I subscribe to TMZ’s channel and get notifications every time they post a video so I am always up to date,” she says. “Often I’ll have on the entertainment news programs at night and will notice them reporting on a TMZ video hours or even days after I’ve seen it, it’s old news by then.”

YouTube is changing journalism. News can break anywhere and by anyone, reducing the need for journalists and synchronizing the reporting process by putting the public in direct contact with the people who see the news and make the news. Toby Wright sums it up by insisting that all we can say for certain is that “YouTube is arguably one of the greatest media platforms of our time. Even we as journalists have to embrace it because it’s not going anywhere but up.” He suggests that maybe instead of fighting the revolution lead by news seekers worldwide journalists should embrace the new face of journalism. “We’ve never been able to get this close before, we can actually live news not just report on it. I encourage it, so I tell everyone, go on broadcast yourself.”

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