Citizen Media Beats Big Media, YouTube Blows The Whistle

The whistle-blower who aired allegations on YouTube that Lockheed Martin sold the U.S. Coast Guard $24 billion worth of refurbished Coast Guard patrol boats with significant security flaws and other deficiencies says it was a decision of "last resort." He turned to YouTube when the mainstream media dismissed his claims as "outlandish."

"I contacted every single mass media outlet on television and probably 75 separate reporters at different newspapers," says Michael De Kort, the 41-year-old former engineer for Lockheed Martin. De Kort was laid off by the military contractor days after he posted his 10-minute video on August 3, soberly detailing shortcomings in the boats' security cameras, communications abilities, and cold weather capabilities. "They wouldn't do the story."

Following De Kort's YouTube airing, however, his allegations were subsequently reported in the Navy Times, and then picked up by The Washington Post, NPR and other news organizations. The video has become the latest example of new media driving the old, cited by ABC News as "further evidence that the Internet has given the average person a way to be heard."

De Kort says he spent three years working his way through the proper channels--Lockheed Martin, the Coast Guard, congressional representatives--without satisfaction. Then he started approaching the press four months ago.

Representatives from both the Associated Press and The Washington Post confirm that De Kort contacted the outlets' reporters months prior to videotaping his claims for YouTube. "We needed to get documentation from the government, and we haven't yet," says Michael Silverman, managing editor for the AP in New York. "This is a story we continue to pursue."

Is this a case of citizen journalism sounding an alarm so loud that the mainstream media has to act? Not really, says one expert. "This is terrific, certainly if the guy is speaking the truth. But it's not journalism," says Edward Wasserman, Knight Professor of Journalistic Ethics at Washington & Lee University in Virginia. "It's his story--his side of things. A journalist would take his claims and talk to other people to reach the truth."

What this really is, adds Pete Blackshaw, CMO at Nielsen BuzzMetrics, is the latest permutation of the Web's "consumer surveillance" trend. "Video has dramatically raised the stakes for companies, and now the government, because it tends to be more viral," he says. " And like television advertising, it's far more persuasive."

Since The Washington Post broke the story Tuesday, viewings of De Kort's video had risen from 8,000 to nearly 50,000 by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

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