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YouTube & News

Press Release

PEJ Deputy Director Amy Mitchell or Director Tom Rosenstiel

PEJ: YouTube & News:  A New Kind of Visual Journalism Is Developing, but Ethics of Attribution Have Yet to Emerge

July 19, 2012-A new kind of visual journalism is developing on the video-sharing site YouTube, one in which citizens are sharing in content creation with news organizations, a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism finds.

News is becoming a major driver of attention on YouTube, the site founded seven years ago and once best known as a place where people posted videos of a more personal nature. Over the 15 months studied, indeed, roughly a third of the most searched terms each month on YouTube were news related, according to company data.

Of the most watched news videos on YouTube during that period, more than a third (39%) were produced by citizens who often found themselves witnesses to breaking news, while 51% were produced by news organizations. Some of those professional news videos, moreover, clearly contained footage captured by citizens, though it was not explicitly attributed as such. Another 5% of the most-watched videos came from newsmakers themselves, and 5% were not labeled in a way that made was possible to know the producer.

While YouTube has guidelines about attribution, they are not consistently followed by those using the site. One of the study’s conclusions is that clear ethical protocols about attribution have not developed and users may at times have no clear way of knowing the source.

“News has found a place on this video-sharing platform and in ways that are opening up the flow of information and forging new areas of cooperation and dialogue between citizens and news outlets,” said PEJ Deputy Director Amy Mitchell.

These are some of the conclusions from the study, designed and conducted by PEJ, which examined 15 months’ worth of the most popular news videos on the site from January 2011 to March 2012.

Among other findings:

  • Citizens are responsible for posting a good deal of the videos originally produced by news outlets. Fully 39% of the news pieces originally produced by a news organization were posted by users. (The rest of the most popular news videos of the 15 months studied, 61%, were posted by the same news organizations that produced the reports.)
  • The most popular news videos tended to depict natural disasters or political upheaval-usually featuring intense visuals. The three most popular storylines over the 15 month period were non-U.S. events (70% of YouTube’s audience is international). The Japanese earthquake and tsunami was No. 1 (and accounted for 5% of all the 260 most-watched videos), followed by elections in Russia (5%) and unrest in the Middle East (4%).
  • The most popular news videos are a mix of edited and raw footage. More than half the most-viewed videos, 58%, involved footage that had been edited while a sizable percentage, 42%, was raw footage. This mix of raw and edited video, moreover, held true across those coming from news organizations and those produced by citizens. Of videos produced by news organizations, 65% were edited, but so were 39% of what came from citizens.
  • Personalities are not a main driver of the top news videos. No one individual was featured in even 5% of the most popular videos studied here – and fully 65% did not feature any individual at all. Within the small segment of popular videos that are focused on people, President Barack Obama was the most popular figure (featured in 4% of the top videos worldwide.) These ranged from speeches posted in their entirety to satirical ads produced by his political opponents.


The Project for Excellence in Journalism tracks the transformation of journalism in a changing information landscape through its annual State of the News Media report and a series of special reports. As part of the nonpartisan, non-advocacy Pew Research Center, it does not take positions on policy issues.

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