Commentary

Citizen Journalism Moves Above the Fold With YouTube's CitizenTube

Some ideas are so obvious that, when they suddenly emerge, you wonder why it took so long for them to develop in the first place. So it is with YouTube's CitizenTube news feed, which launched this week along with the help of students at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. This subsite of YouTube aggregates -- or should I say curates -- citizen news posted to YouTube on one site. (CitizenTube has been around as a channel and concept for awhile, but the news feed treatment takes the idea up a few notches.)

I use the word "curate" here because this site is more than a dump of footage shot on cell phones. As the official YouTube blog explains, "The news feed will provide a stream of breaking news videos on YouTube, with a focus on strong visuals, non-traditional sources and the very latest uploads." Your blurry video of a fender bender won't make the cut. As I write this, the site, which is built simply on Blogger, is featuring footage of:

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  •      Muslim protesters in the U.K.

  •      A giant Jesus statue going up in flames in Ohio after being struck by lightning.

  •      A Seattle police officer having a physical alteration with a teenage girl.

  •      Uzbeks trying to flee Krzygstan.

  •      And a gorilla trying to flee its enclosure at the North Carolina Zoo.  

    In short, it's a mixture of the banal, the silly, and the globally significant -- which doesn't seem very different than what you might see on the local news. The site has also made a minor stir this week with footage of Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) getting into a scuffle with a student at a Nancy Pelosi fundraiser.  

    My sense is that because the site organizes and selects the content, while not exactly editing it in the fashion we see in traditional journalism, it will become a news driver. As such, it bears watching for anyone who is interested not just in how social media covers news events, but how it influences them. Only minutes after I made note above of the attempted gorilla escape, I saw the same footage on "Inside Edition" -- this time augmented by interviews with onlookers who were obviously frightened by the spectacle of a gorilla using a tree branch to get its arms on the top of the enclosure. Now, the exhibit has been temporarily closed -- nothing focuses the minds of people who can do something about a problem than a video of it flying all over YouTube.  

    So far, there's no sign of advertising on the site -- but, while making money probably isn't first and foremost in the minds of whoever is involved, there's no reason it couldn't have a healthy advertising model. My only question is whether it would be stocked with ads for hemorrhoid remedies and osteoporosis treatments, or whether we'd finally see ads targeted to younger audiences coming to the site. Mountain Dew advertising on a news site! Incroyable! 

    I probably don't do enough with this column in terms of giving readers ideas of sites they should keep an eye on. Too many Facebook controversies to cover! But CitizenTube is one of those sites. (Thanks to Janet Fouts for bringing CitizenTube to my information-overloaded brain.)

    See you at OMMA Social tomorrow!

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