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Pew Study: More Viewers Choose YouTube for Breaking News

July 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study Monday showing that news consumers are increasingly trading traditional media for YouTube. Jeffrey Brown discusses the challenges and opportunities traditional media sources now face with Pew's Tom Rosenstiel and The New York Times' Brian Stelter.

JEFFREY BROWN: News on television, news online — we look next at the shifting media landscape.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan…

JEFFREY BROWN: Millions of viewers watched the Japanese tsunami and its aftermath on television in March of last year, but tens of millions more, nearly 100 million people in a week, watched videos of the unfolding events online on the video-sharing website YouTube.

A report released today by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism captures the growing power and popularity of the website as a place where people turn for news. The 15-month study found that the tsunami, the elections in Russia and unrest in the Middle East pulled some of the biggest numbers, as viewers watched a mix of edited pieces from traditional news organizations and unofficial raw videos posted by citizen eyewitnesses.

The growing role of YouTube and other video-sharing platforms poses yet another challenge for a media industry trying to find its footing in the digital era. Last night, NBC News took a high-profile step to rebrand its online identity after buying out Microsoft’s share of Visitors are now redirected to The Comcast-owned network is also embracing new online ties, last week announcing a partnership with Facebook for exclusive Olympics content.

For its part, ABC paired itself more closely last year with Yahoo! by reaching an agreement to show more of its content online and to provide Web-only programming. The combined sites have 81 million unique visitors a month in the U.S. alone.

Simply put, a viewer is not as valuable online yet as he or she is on television or in print.Brian Stelter, The New York Times

And many journalism organizations, including the NewsHour, have recognized the popularity of YouTube’s video-sharing approach and now make their own news channels available there.

And I’m joined now by Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Pew Research Center’s Project For Excellence in Journalism, which conducted the YouTube study, and Brian Stelter, who writes on the media for The New York Times.

Tom, your report calls this a new kind of visual journalism, speaking of YouTube. What does that mean? How do you define it?

TOM ROSENSTIEL, Project for Excellence in Journalism: Well, it’s a perfect loop between citizens who are producing video, news organizations who are producing video, and also incorporating the citizen eyewitness footage into their journalism, and audiences who we remember set the news agenda on YouTube.

So what is the top story each week on YouTube? Well, that’s determined entirely by the audience. This is sort of the dialogue about news in which consumers are also producers. And journalists interact with them, that people have imagined would occur online. And it’s happening on YouTube.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so give us some examples. What do we see so far about what people are turning to on YouTube? Is it YouTube versus the traditional TV news, or both?

TOM ROSENSTIEL: It’s both. And that’s what’s so interesting.

I think that what people are looking for depends on the story. If you are — if you want to see how that tsunami looked, a surveillance camera at the airport was actually the number-one most-watched video in 2011 on YouTube. I don’t think that our journalism is going to be coming from ATMs in the future, but at that moment that was the perfect camera.


TOM ROSENSTIEL: If you are trying to see what it looked like inside a demonstration in Egypt, it might be a handheld video from somebody’s phone. But if it’s something that needs material and context from a variety of destinations, a journalist’s package, those were also among the most watched videos.

But this is a video-sharing platform. So these were visual stories. The kind of explanatory exposés that you — that we also want — those are probably coming from print and are not going to be on YouTube.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Brian, Brian, would what do you see the role of YouTube? It’s not a news organization. It’s not doing its own reporting. So what is its role in the landscape now?

BRIAN STELTER, The New York Times: Right.

It’s a supplement, in the same way that all other forms of media, when they come along, supplement the existing forms of media. I appreciate being able to watch a video on YouTube of protests in Syria, raw video taken by a protester. But I also need to see the news story about those protests.

Of course, the video from Syria, the raw video, is especially helpful when reporters can’t get into the country, get into isolated areas. So I think we are continuing to understand that YouTube is a supplement and an increasingly popular one.

Networks and news organizations have to go to YouTube and distribute their material there, rather than expecting people to come to them for it. We have to go to the consumers.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tom, one of the other interesting aspects of this that you raise in your study is the problems associated with it. You don’t always know where that video came from. And there’s a line in it that says, “It creates the potential for news to be manufactured or even falsified.”


YouTube has guidelines that say that you need to attribute who produced the video, who shot it. But there’s no way to enforce that those guidelines are followed. As they say in — you know, these are just guidelines.

And while YouTube is new as a news source, if someone wants to stage an event, some of — about 5 percent of the most-watched videos on YouTube last year, we could not identify where they came from.

JEFFREY BROWN: What percent?

TOM ROSENSTIEL: Five percent.

JEFFREY BROWN: Five percent, you couldn’t…

TOM ROSENSTIEL: There was no way to know..


JEFFREY BROWN: So the viewer has no way of knowing.



TOM ROSENSTIEL: And if it’s an event like the tsunami, you can fairly reliably imagine that this is real.

But it could be something that no one else has produced any video on, and there would be no way of knowing.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Brian, I mentioned some of these other ongoing developments, NBC, ABC.


JEFFREY BROWN: Broaden it out a little bit. Put this YouTube discussion into that broader context. How are the traditional, especially television network news, trying to adapt?

BRIAN STELTER: I think what we’re seeing is news organizations that used to have bigger audiences, seeing their audiences go in dozens of directions because of the Internet. It’s the splintering effect of the Internet. And they’re trying to reassemble those audiences, as best they can in different ways.

NBC and Facebook is a great example. Last week, NBC said that it will be partnering with Facebook for the Summer Olympics. And the head of the — the head of the coverage, the producer, said to me, we’re trying to reassemble the audience that is off in a million directions because of the Web. Today, NBC News and Microsoft announced they were divorcing. They were splitting up a 16-year-old partnership, because they realized being exclusive and only working with each other was outdated.

These days, news organizations seem to want to have multiple partners. They want to cooperate with multiple different Web sites and different distributors, because it’s harder to get attention now in that landscape, and they need more distribution partners.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you’re saying, Brian, they seem to want to do this. They’re trying to do this. Nobody has a magic formula, though, right, in creating these partnerships?

BRIAN STELTER: Right. That’s exactly right.

You mentioned Yahoo! and ABC. They joined together about nine months ago, not exclusively, because, like I said, that seems to have changed. But they had an alliance where Yahoo!, the biggest portal of them all, would distribute lots of traffic to ABC. And it’s been good for ABC.  ABC’s had a lot of traffic as a result.

But the revenue piece has been harder — harder to find. It’s been slower to come. Not to say it won’t come in the future, but right now that distribution deal is mostly for traffic, not for dollars, not for ad dollars. And that illustrates the main problem with the Web. Simply put, a viewer is not as valuable online yet as he or she is on television or in print. And while that is slowly changing, the key word is slowly.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tom, last word from you, how do you see these partnerships?

TOM ROSENSTIEL: Well, these news organizations, as Brian said, are looking for new distribution points, because their audience is shrinking.

For the distribution partners, like Yahoo!, they’re looking for brand. They need content that will distinguish them. As — although YouTube — although Yahoo! News is the most visited news site in the United States, Yahoo! is not making enough money, and the company is in trouble.

So, really, the only players who are making a major amount of money online is Google and a handful of others that have so much market share that, even for pennies on the dollar, they can make money with advertising. But most of the players there are being left out. So this is scramble to remake the landscape, create partnerships, see what works.

There’s a lot of experimentation. I mean, NBC and Facebook for the Olympics, that’s just an experiment to see how things go. No one is expecting — no money even changes hands. These are all bets to learn about where the future may be.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Tom Rosenstiel, Brian Stelter, thanks both very much.