Google's new YouTube Direct allows amateur journalists (meaning anyone with a camera in their mobile phone) to upload video clips for a shot at their 15 seconds of fame. The broadcast news media seem to have learned the wrong lesson from the fall of print media and embracing 'citizen journalists' may expedite the extinction of traditional news as we know it.
You can't really blame the amateur videographers. People have always had a fascination with making video recordings of any mundane, inane thing. You don't need to look any farther than this six and a half minute video of a hedgehog taking a bath in a sink to understand my point.
The Internet, and more specifically YouTube, has provided budding directors with a platform for seeking fame and notoriety. There are some great videos, and probably even some quality journalism, buried somewhere in the YouTube clips. But, a quick scan of the video clips from the top 2 most-subscribed YouTube members, nigahiga and Fred, proves that quality journalism isn't the lure for attracting viewers on YouTube.
YouTube Direct is a jackpot for broadcast media. No news show would be complete these days without a homemade video clip of some tragedy. With YouTube Direct, the media outlets have a one-stop-shopping clearinghouse where they can search to find compelling video clips to air rather than having to put forth the effort in tracking them down on a case by case basis.
I am pretty sure that the advent of citizen journalists is a sign of the apocalypse. At the very least, it is a sign of what is wrong with broadcast media. Broadcast news outlets have watched the decline and fall of print media and are trying to learn from that industry's mistakes, but they seem to have learned the wrong lesson.
Print media is on the endangered species list, and the Internet and bloggers have a lot to do with that. Print media outlets largely ignored the shifting landscape of the Internet-era and treated bloggers with a condescending contempt. While print media wasn't looking, bloggers were often asking tougher questions, investigating stories more thoroughly, and scooping them on breaking stories.
To avoid a similar fate, broadcast media seems to be taking the opposite tack by embracing the citizen journalists. I commend broadcast media for making more of an effort to adapt to the times. There are certainly situations where news outlets don't have cameras on the scene and citizen journalists offer valuable insight.
The fallout of the elections in Iran is one example where social media and citizen journalists added value to traditional news reporting. But, those occasions should be the exception, not the rule. Broadcast media should not embrace amateur journalism to the point that it has surrendered the news.
Broadcast news has evolved to become more of a community effort. Networks and news anchors have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Live interviews are conducted with anyone with a webcam thanks to Skype. It makes sense to adapt and to engage viewers to give them a sense of ownership and a reason to watch the news.
The bottom line, though, is that we look to the news outlets to provide news. We need networks and anchors to maintain some journalistic integrity and provide unique insight. If the evening news becomes nothing more than an episode of Tosh.0 then it isn't providing any real value for viewers.
It is telling that in the wake of the death of Walter Cronkite a survey found that the most trusted news anchor is Jon Stewart. Yes, Jon Stewart. From the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. A spoof news show on Comedy Central. It says something when people trust the fake anchor on Comedy Central more than they trust the anchors on the traditional networks.
Embracing citizen journalists is one step away from pulling the plug on traditional journalism completely. Firsthand reports from citizen journalists have their place, but they can't completely replace real news. YouTube Direct will hopefully be used to enhance rather than replace real journalism.