Online Video As A Memorial: YouTube’s Tribute To Fallen Journalists

Online Video As A Memorial: YouTube’s Tribute To Fallen Journalists

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Online video can be a lot of things. It can be entertainment, obviously, and that has been it’s primary purpose these last six years or so. But it’s flexing its muscle in recent years, showing how much power and creativity it can bring to help us rethink other traditional things like education, fine art, communication, or even historical record-keeping. And with a new endeavor from YouTube and Newseum, online video seeks to be something we haven’t seen before: a memorial.

Most of us have been to a memorial of some kind in our lives. I’m partial to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C., not only because I know people who were in that conflict, but also because of the reverence of that place. If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about. For a brief stretch of sidewalk outside the Lincoln Memorial, in the midst of a hustling and bustling city, you’ll find one of the quietest and most respectful environments you’ll ever see. It’s somber and even a little sad. The simplicity of the memorial–simple names carved into stone–helps visitors reflect and remember those who lost their lives.

There are, of course, countless similar memorials. Some are statues and plaques. Some are museums, like the excellent Holocaust Museum (also in D.C.). And in the digital age… we’ve even seen memorial websites succeed.

The YouTube Journalists Memorial

Now YouTube is taking what they do best–online video–and using it to create a new kind of memorial, one that seeks to honor the fallen journalists from around the world “who have died pursuing the news.” It’s called the Journalists Memorial, and it’s a joint venture between the video company and Newseum–in fact, this new site will actually continue into the future serving as an ongoing digital version of Newseum’s annual Journalists Memorial.

Don’t expect the usual YouTube fare–there aren’t talking dogs or pratfall videos. Quite the opposite. As with most memorials, there is a sobering tone. Memorials aren’t feel-good in nature, but instead are designed to help us remember the sacrifices we so often take for granted, sometimes by making us sad or uncomfortable. It’s not supposed to be easy to watch these videos.

And yet, there’s something uplifting about it… about remembering and honoring these brave men and women who did with their lives something I would never have the courage to do.

I’d encourage you to take a look at the Journalists Memorial page when you have some time. You’ll see videos like this:


One gripe I have with it is the ads. Several of the featured videos–most of which are curated from real, existing YouTube accounts–have ads on them. And it really bothered me. Now, I have no problem with videos having ads on them. You’ve probably read enough articles from me about video advertising to know that I have no problem with the concept.

But in this context, it felt out of place… like someone is profiting off the memory of these journalists. And in a memorial, it just feels icky. It pulled me out of the moment. After watching a few videos about these fallen heroes, it’s jarring to then see an ad for dish detergent prior to jumping back into the somber clips. I kind of wish more care had been taken to select videos that had no ads on them–or that YouTube had worked with these channels to create a way for the memorial clips to run without the ads.

Of course, part of the memorial’s intent is to let users submit videos about fallen journalists. It’s intended to be an open memorial. And when you mine that many different channels for good content, you’re bound to end up with some ads, I suppose.

But aside from that one gripe… I am really quite impressed. It literally is a video-based digital memorial. And while it may not guide you through the content the way a traditional brick-and-mortar memorial might, it’s just as sobering… and just as powerful. No one had to build a museum building to create it, and no one has to leave the comfort of their own home to experience it.


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