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YouTube Enlists Users as Newscasters


Google partners with media companies in support of citizen journalism.


This... is the lobby of the Petersham Hotel -- nine miles northeast of Trafalgar Square. The noise you hear is the sound of room service handing me my tuna sandwich. At some point after the blitz, I'm sure one of you will be able to provide us with an on-the-scene account of what occurred. Good night and good luck.

-- Edward R. Murrow, as imagined after the introduction of citizen journalism.

CNN's (TWX) iReport popularized the user-generated news story in August 2006. Capitalizing on the explosion of amateur-produced content, CNN saw the potential of possibly padding an otherwise-slim report with a few soundbites and video clips from viewers who actually were on location and, hopefully, somewhat in-the-know. While the service marked a triumph for up-to-the-second reporting and audience participation, it smacked of lazy and inexperienced journalism.

Of course, now with the clearance to write around a sensationalist video clip shot by a camera phone, media companies quickly developed similar services. ABC (DIS) began i-Caught, Fox (NWS) started uReport, and MSNBC (GE) launched FirstPerson.

Now, YouTube (GOOG) aims to gather user-generated video under one service from which media companies can cull and add to their news stories. The service -- which launches today -- is called YouTube Direct and has already partnered with NPR, Politico, The Huffington Post, and The San Francisco Chronicle, according to The New York Times.

News sites will be able to request footage and commentary from citizens as well as solicit promotions for their brand. Each news organization is outfitted with its own YouTube Direct profile which lists the submitted videos in a "private moderation platform," allowing the site to pick and choose which videos may be added to the story. Selected videos are also automatically posted to YouTube's main site with a link back to the article. Contact information is also provided if the media company requires fact confirmation -- or is in desperate need for additional content.

Although YouTube Direct will advance the video site's journalism reach beyond clips of local weathermen losing control of their bodily functions while on the air, the service reinforces the common mistakes and misconceptions of modern-day reporting.

As newspapers and local news outfits struggle to maintain a readership and viewership base, it's critical that a dependence on untrained and unprofessional news providers is not established.

Yes, the instant updates of news blogs have largely destroyed the appeal of cold, hours-old stories found in a paper, but a news organization's success can also be predicated upon in-depth analysis, unique insight, and good ol' fashioned hard news.

An online presence is a definite plus, but shaky footage of a protester's arrest during the G-8 Summit isn't always necessary.

But since YouTube Direct is completely free, it will likely become a popular method for media companies to mine the public for content.

(YouTube's video of the service is available here.)

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