At this point, would you be surprised if YouTube isn’t one of the top sources for pretty much any kind of genre?  The only thing YouTube and other sites don’t have right now is numbers for scripted shows that rival TV, although that’s certainly debatable.  A recent study came out from detailing not only the numbers of people watching news on YouTube, but what kind of news and how that news is delivered, among other factors.  You see, while we very much like to get video on demand from YouTube, the process does have its problems, mostly concerning journalistic standards and credible sources.

Watching News on YouTube: The Good and the Bad

The big eye-catching stat comes from the week after the Japanese earthquake/tsunami from a year ago.  The top 20 top news videos accounted for 96 million views. Here’s one of the top-viewed videos from that disaster:

The study will go on to say that this stat doesn’t mean YouTube beats the networks on the nightly news, since 22 million people watch the nightly news over three networks every night (that’s 110 million people a week), and even more watch the local news.  Still, 96 million shows that YouTube at least rivals the networks, and remember, that’s 3 whole networks that the 1 YouTube is rivaling.

And what kind of news gets people watching YouTube?  Well, it’s the same kind of draw that just about any kind of content does.  Is it amazing, unusual, horrifying, etc.?  This is what found:

The most popular news videos tended to depict natural disasters or political upheaval-usually featuring intense visuals. With a majority of YouTube traffic (70%) outside the U.S., the three most popular storylines worldwide over the 15-month period were non-U.S. events. The Japanese earthquake and tsunami was No. 1 (and accounted for 5% of all the 260 videos), followed by elections in Russia (5%) and unrest in the Middle East (4%).

Those last two in particular are of note because one other thing the study mentions is how governments have tried to ban YouTube content for the reason that the videos “might worsen a tense situation.”  So it will be interesting to see how news evolves on YouTube based on government regulations.

Let’s take a look at this finding:

Citizens play a substantial role in supplying and producing footage. More than a third of the most watched videos (39%) were clearly identified as coming from citizens. Another 51% bore the logo of a news organization, though some of that footage, too, appeared to have been originally shot by users rather than journalists. (5% came from corporate and political groups, and the origin of another 5% was not identified.)

What you have here is a mix of news sources all cannibalizing each other.  You have major networks using citizen-shot footage, you have citizens posting material from other networks (some of which was shot by citizens), and there are no real standards involved.  There are no checks and balances in all this, no way to verify the veracity of the content.  And while YouTube can pull videos, and you can get kicked off for violating the user agreements, there will always be loopholes and YouTube simply being unaware of violations.

Still, what the study concludes from all this “news from the people” is that individuals can shape their own news agenda by posting, shooting, and viewing news content of their own choosing, and it’s something to which the real news outlets need to adapt.  In this day and age, when people can shoot video on phones, people can be a part of a situation or at least be close to it, shoot a video, and post it to YouTube before a network can blink.