YouTube now a major source for news, Pew study shows

YouTube now a major source for news

YouTube isn’t just for cat videos anymore. A new study from the Pew Center shows that Web users are increasingly visiting the online video site for news, especially for first-person videos of natural disasters and other major events.

The 15-month study, carried out by Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, found that news-related search terms were used more often than any other terms for five months during the study period, marking a notable increase in the popularity of YouTube as a source for news and evidence of change in the journalism industry at large.

“The data reveal that a complex, symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and news organizations on YouTube, a relationship that comes close to the continuous journalistic ‘dialogue’ many observers predicted would become the new journalism online,” writes Pew. “Citizens are creating their own videos about news and posting them. They are also actively sharing news videos produced by journalism professionals. And news organizations are taking advantage of citizen content and incorporating it into their journalism. Consumers, in turn, seem to be embracing the interplay in what they watch and share, creating a new kind of television news.”

YouTube - Pew graph

From the study, Pew derived seven key findings:

  • Videos depicting natural disasters or “political upheaval” are usually the most popular.
  • Citizen-made videos play a crucial role in the YouTube news ecosystem.
  • YouTube users also post a lot of news videos created by professional news outlets; these video make up a good portion of the news on YouTube.
  • Unedited video is becoming an increasingly popular way to view events, with such video making up 42 percent of the news watched on YouTube.
  • Conversely, news “personalities” are not particularly popular, with only 5 percent of videos featuring a single person that was not directly involved in the story.
  • Short videos – about two minutes in length – are the most popular, but they are not the only clips that do well. Thirty three percent of videos analyzed were between two and five minutes. And 18 percent were five minutes long or greater.
  • The Japanese tsunami, Osama bin Laden’s assassination, and video of the homeless man with the “god-given gift of voice” were the most popular of all.

For anyone who gets their news online, this all should come as no surprise. The evolution of the journalism industry, forced by the Web, has been a long process already, and it’s still ongoing. Twitter, for instance, is by far the best place to learn about and keep up with big, breaking news stories. And yet, relatively few people get their news from Twitter. Unfortunately for traditional news organizations, it is difficult to know what platform or medium will become the go-to place, making the ability to adjust quickly to viewers’ tastes a survival necessity. For now, however, it appears as though YouTube is the place to be. 

View the full study here.