But the study, which was done in consultation with YouTube but independent of it, also noted that “a complex, symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and news organizations” on YouTube. People create and post their videos, and they post videos produced by journalism professionals. News organizations, in turn, incorporate “citizen” videos into their work, which gets posted by the organization or by viewers.
“It’s kind of like a billiard table with the balls going back and forth in different ways,” said PEJ Deputy Director Amy Mitchell in an interview. She added, “We’re not saying that people are going to YouTube instead of traditional news sources, but this is a new kind of interaction and a new way of absorbing and learning about events from around the world.”
At the same time, the study noted that there are no clear ethical standards about how to identify the sources of material in YouTube videos, leaving viewers in the dark about who posted a video or where the uploader got the footage in a clip. “All this creates the potential for news to be manufactured, or even falsified, without giving audiences much ability to know who produced” a video, the study said.
While most of the most-heavily-viewed videos in the “news and politics” category studied by PEJ were about major news events, a few were about events largely overlooked by the rest of the media. The most prominent was the death of Marco Simoncelli, a professional motorcycle racer. A video of the accident that killed him during the Malaysian Grand Prix was the most-viewed news video on YouTube in October.
As popular as news videos are on YouTube, they still don’t rival the biggest in the entertainment category. The most-watched video of 2011 was “Friday,” the four-minute pop song by 13-year-old Rebecca Black, which was viewed more than 180 million times during the year. The most-watched video of all time is Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” which has been viewed more than 755 million times in the two years since it was posted, or roughly a million times a day.