News Update :

The YouTubing of Mainstream Media

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

YouTube, the well-known video exchange site, was one of the prime targets of Andrew Keen’s polemic book “The Cult of the Amateur: How today’s Internet is killing our culture”. Keen’s argument against YouTube was that the low quality, anonymous amateur videos downloaded and viewed in the site contribute to misinformation of the public (not able to distinguish between reality, fiction and advertising), abuse of intellectual rights (from using copyrighted material like music, video, logos etc) and destruction of traditional professional creators of information and entertainment products. According to Keen and other skeptics, there is a real danger, especially for youth, that this amateur content will compromise their judgment and criteria as to what art really is, posing a direct threat to the western culture (and the established “culture” industry).
Whether these arguments are right or wrong is not the issue here but something a few people would deny is the fact that YouTube has helped unleashing a previously hidden source of journalistic content. This hidden potential has been for some time now been noticed and increasingly been utilized by mainstream TV channels.
The reason is simple: there is hardly any event happening on this planet without someone with a video-enabled cellular phone being present. The ubiquitous presence of witnesses with such equipment in their pockets can not be matched even by the biggest TV channels, those with extensive networks everywhere and camera crews on the standby. The most dramatic pictures and videos from the London and Madrid bombings and the Asia tsunami came from amateur videos and during the recent riots in Burma, where the regime prevented journalists from reporting, the video footage came almost exclusively from amateur phone cameras. BBC, CNN (
i-Report), CBS (CBS Community) and channels in many other countries now openly encourage viewers to shoot videos from events happening and download them to the station’s web site. People do that indeed: For most the perspective that their video will be shown on national television is more attractive than the very competitive YouTube.
So far most of these videos do not reach the airwaves but I would not be surprised if channels following the BBC example - the
BBC Backstage initiative - start putting more professional tools in the hands of amateurs hopping for higher quality material and exclusivity in exchange.
This entry of the mainstream media in the online downloads market make them direct competitors of YouTube and other similar sites for citizen journalism products. It also opens a new and interesting chapter in the media convergence process, underlying the role of the new generation of online applications commonly referred to as Web 2.0, in shaping the future. Thanks to Web 2.0 the Internet is not any more a simple communication and business platform, it is increasingly becoming a catalyst of citizen empowerment. Despite the warnings of skeptics and the obvious hitches innate in such processes the ever increasing enthusiasm of the online public about everything having to do with online user generated content (blogs, content communities, social networks, forums and content aggregators) indicate that from now on the importance of amateur content as information source will increase.
While for many the cultural effects and cultural contribution of YouTube and other social content sites is still an issue open to debate, one should recognize the impact of this site of the future media landscape. No doubt that what we see today is only the beginning of a process that will put more power to the hands of the media consumer, not only as content contributor but probably also as editorial influencer.
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