The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that YouTube has enabled tens of millions of people worldwide to follow news events such as the Japanese tsunami, Middle East unrest and the killing of Osama bin Laden by creating their own “on demand” news agenda, watching developments unfold where and when they determine. Some news videos remained heavily viewed on YouTube for weeks, long after traditional news sources had moved on to other subjects.
Videos related to the 2011 tsunami and its aftermath were the most heavily viewed of any in YouTube’s “news and politics” category tracked by PEJ during a 15-month period starting in January 2011. The 20 most-viewed tsunami videos collectively had 96 million views, said PEJ, a nonprofit group based in Washington.
Unlike a traditional news organization, which produces most of its own material or obtains it from other professional sources, YouTube features news videos that come from all over. Videos shot by TV news organizations (and often posted, without permission, by viewers) appear to be the largest source of the most-viewed material, accounting for just over half of the 260 videos that ranked among the most popular during the 15-month period PEJ examined. But “citizen-produced” videos — shot by eyewitnesses with video cameras or smartphones — accounted for nearly 40 percent of the total. The balance came from political parties and advocacy groups or from unidentified sources.
Russia Today, a seven-year-old TV news organization backed by the Russian government, produced 22 of the 260 most popular, most of them about events surrounding the Russian presidential election. The second-leading source of professional news clips was Fox News, although six of the nine Fox videos that made the list were posted by viewers who were critical of the channel’s hosts or guests, PEJ said. Among these was an interview with country singer Hank Williams Jr. on “Fox & Friends” in October in which Williams compared President Obama to Hitler and a video of pundit Tucker Carlson from January 2011 in which Carlson asserted that NFL star Michael Vick should get the death penalty for abusing and killing dogs.
To some extent, the popularity of news clips on YouTube isn’t surprising, given the site’s global reach. YouTube is the third-most-visited site on the Internet, behind only Google (which owns YouTube) and Facebook, according to the research company Netcraft. It gets more than 4 billion video views a day, about a third of which come from the United States, PEJ said. One measure of YouTube’s power, the study noted, is that the governments of nations such as China, Bangladesh, Libya, Pakistan and Iran have attempted to block YouTube content from their citizens.