November 20, 2009

YouTube’s role in citizen journalism

Olivia Ma on YouTube as a news channel from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaDuring the recent annual conference of the Online News Association in San Francisco, I had a chance to sit down (literally on the floor) with Olivia Ma, news manager in YouTube’s News & Politics team.

YouTube is in the news again this week with the rollout of YouTube Direct, a tool to make it easy for YouTube users to submit clips that news media companies can choose to highlight. NPR, Politico, The Huffington Post and The San Francisco Chronicle are among the early participants. Scroll down to see the video explaining the program and YouTube’s announcement. (YouTube Direct was still in development when I interviewed Olivia.)

Olivia (@oliviama on Twtter — follow her!) talks about YouTube‘s astonishing growth, the birth of the YouTube Reporters Center — it’s a resource to help you learn how to report news, with instructional videos with tips and advice for better reporting from top journalists — and how YouTube has become a video platform for hundreds of US senators and congresspersons.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo
Watch the low-res transcoded version on YouTube
Watch the video on Blip

Some highlights from our conversation:

• Every 60 seconds, 20 hours’ worth of video is being uploaded to YouTube, which is equivalent to 86,000 full-length Hollywood films being uploaded every week.

• As of this past spring, the US Senate and House of Representatitves now have hubs on YouTube. Some 98 senators nearly 400 of the 435 members of the House now have YouTube pages, as well as many government agencies. “It’s amazing to see how governments around the world are starting to use this as a way to engage with their constituents,” Olivia says.

• Olivia reminds us that, with millions of people now carrying around video-enabled cellphones, Flips and Kodak Zi8s, you don’t need fancy video recording equipment to capture newsworthy or interesting moments. “Just do it,” she says. “If you’ve got the means, just start shooting video and start putting it up on the Web.”

• Some companies are still nervous about having a presence on YouTube. But Google encourages businesses to come on board. Olivia notes that YouTube now has thousands of professional content partners, ranging from Hollywood studios and tech companies to news organizations. So there should no longer be a hesitancy among online news organizations about whether you’re allowed to post to YouTube. You are.

Thanks, Olivia, for the interesting insights and for being good sport by agreeing to sit on the hallway carpet as the conference was winding down.

While I admire YouTube for all it’s doing to enable citizen media, I’m less than happy right now because I’ve tried several times to get high-def versions of my videos (including this interview with Olivia) working on YouTube, without success. So I’ll put that down as a to-do list for early December: Figure out why my standard compression settings for high-def H.264 video aren’t good enough for YouTube.

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JD Lasica, founder of, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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2 thoughts on “YouTube’s role in citizen journalism

  1. While I'm happy to see YouTube spreading the good word about citizen reporting and helping to make it a more acceptable source of news, I have concerns of the way keeping amateur content free can do nothing but devalue the product of non “professionals”. If content is deemed newsworthy enough for a media house to publish it, and here I'm talking about the news publishers using YouTube direct content, then that in itself should determine that the footage is of considerable worth. Why should the producer of this content not get payment AND recognition for their outsanding or exclusive content?

    I just started working with a French site that has been offering a service similar to YouTube direct for over 3 years now. This site,, has cultivated an international community of amateur reporters and offers its members' content for sale to thousands of media clients around the world (they work with Agence France Presse and so have access to its clientelle through its ImageForum). That's right, they sell the content, and they give the contributors up to 70% of the sale price.

    They also have developed sophisticated tools to aid in the validation of uploads, another thing YouTube Direct has chosen not to offer. Citizenside sells their whole platform with all these tools to news publishers who wish to involve their readers/spectators/etc… in the reporting of the news.

    It lets them build a whole online community for the audience to share news related images, putting readers in constant interaction with each other and the publication, all the while within the domain of the publisher. And, perhaps the best part, publishers have first rights to all their members contributions. If another publication wants to use some content, they must purchase the rights and the sale is split evenly between the contributor, the news organization they contributed to, and Citizenside.

    This is opposed to the YouTube direct model where contributors upload to YouTube and have little or no interaction with a single news organization. Then their content can be used again and again, without them receiving any renumeration.

    I'm glad YouTube is in the market now because it means this sector is gowing to gain considerable visibility, but I hold firmly that there are definite draw-backs to the YouTube direct model, both for contributors and news publishers. And so I urge anyone interested, citizen or corporation, to look closely at the alternatives: and their platform the Reporter Kit (

  2. Some companies remain tense regarding having a position on YouTube. However Google motivates businesses to come on deck. Olivia notes which YouTube now has got thousands of professional content lovers, covering anything from Hollywood studios and also tech companies to news corporations. So indeed there should not any longer feel a hesitancy included in on the internet information corporations about whether you’re authorized to article to YouTube. You will be.