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YouTube Levels Playing Field For Independent News Providers

YouTube has emerged as a significant source of news for American, giving independent producers a far-reaching distribution platform to rival bigger news organizations.

Some 26% of U.S. adults said they get news on the video-sharing site, and about three quarters of those people describe YouTube as an "important" news source, according to a survey by Pew Research Center.

Forty-two percent of the most popular YouTube news channels are independent, almost reaching parity with the 49% of those channels affiliated with a news organization, such as CNN or Fox News. Each kind of channel has found a dedicated audience on YouTube, with 23% of people saying they often get news from an independent news channel -- the same percentage as for news organizations.

However, 36% of respondents said they never or hardly ever or never get news from an independent channel on YouTube, more than the 25% who said the same thing about news outlets. The biggest groups are in the middle, saying they sometimes get news from YouTube.

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Pew identified 377 popular news outlets in its study.

Independent news channels tend to be driven by a personality who cultivated a following on YouTube, a formula that isn't as popular among news organizations. About 70% of independent channels are personality-driven, compared with only 22% for news organizations, Pew's study found.

Monetization Strategies

Many independent news channel ask viewers to donate money to help finance their operations, given that YouTube can be an unreliable source of revenue-sharing. While the platform offers creators a way to earn money from ads that appear in videos, it also has restricted access to funding of channels that violate its rules, Pew notes.

About 41% of independent news channels accept direction donations, with 66% of those seeking financial support through Patreon and 25% through a YouTube membership. But channels also accept donations through other payment methods, like PayPal, Venmo or GoFundMe.

To incentivize viewers to donate, 74% of channels that accept donations provide benefits, such as access to exclusive content or digital stickers and badges that followers can use in the comments section. Twenty-two percent of news channels sell merchandise like T-shirts or coffee mugs.

The findings indicate that YouTube is an important source of news, including people who may be dissatisfied with more mainstream sources, though those channels are still more popular among news consumers.

Still, smaller news producers can develop a following on the platform, and possibly sustain their efforts through the direct support of their most committed audiences.

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