As a platform, YouTube has long been a clearinghouse for raw, newsworthy footage from around the world, from grainy shots of protests during the Arab Spring to high-definition recordings of the latest drones, but it has never tried to organize those resources into a structured news site.
Now, it’s taking the first step toward becoming a fully fledged news source. On Thursday, June 18, it launched YouTube Newswire, a simple curated page featuring videos of the biggest news stories of the day.
Newswire, created in partnership with the social news agency Storyful, isn’t just a list of videos, but a brand, with its own Twitter page and newsletter.
YouTube is the latest online platform to take a more active approach in the world of journalism, creating its own brand instead of passively transmitting content between newsmakers and consumers. Earlier this year, Snapchat launched Discover, where so far a select group of media organizations produces news videos customized for viewing on the popular social app, and Facebook struck a deal with an array of publishers to host entire articles on the social network.
Unlike with Facebook and Snapchat, YouTube is less a gatekeeper to Web traffic and more a gold mine of content for news sites, where YouTube videos are often embedded and packaged into articles. If YouTube could package its content successfully, it could cut news sites out of the equation entirely, and that’s actually what it’s aiming for.
Launched simultaneously with Newswire is the First Draft Coalition, which aims to give amateur reporters the training they need to gather information and verify news stories. At the moment, the project comprises a series of articles on Medium, most of which are concerned with how to discern fake videos from real ones. A separate website will launch this fall.
One of the greatest advantages online news sites have had over print organizations has been the ability to outsource the production of news to low-paid writers—or in many cases writers who don’t get paid at all—to generate massive amounts for pennies on the dollar. That was the business model of The Huffington Post, which relies on an army of unpaid bloggers to fill up much of the space on its website.
The more news organizations relied on content produced by unpaid amateurs, the more the distinction between “reporter” and “commenter” seemed to blur, and the more economic pressure was put on traditional companies that still hired full-time reporters, whose numbers seem to dwindle every day. The logical endpoint of this development would be the collapse of the distinction altogether, with everyone becoming a “citizen journalist,” none of whom are paid.
Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker Media, has already started work on collapsing that distinction: The goal of his Kinja platform has been for members of the the comment section to source, break, and report stories, and ultimately replace reporters altogether.
“Publishing should be a collaboration between authors and their smartest readers,” Denton told Niemanlab in 2013. “And at some point the distinction should become meaningless.”
Things haven’t worked so smoothly for Kinja, and in September Denton said that the entire enterprise had been “premature.” Meanwhile, the labor structure at Gawker has moved in the opposite direction, historically speaking, with the writers deciding to unionize in April.
However, Denton didn’t think that the fundamentals of citizen journalism were a bad bet, just that the Kinja software still needed to overcome some hurdles. There’s certainly no shortage of online commenters who have something to say.
Indeed, the last two years have seen a movement to suppress online commenters, whether it’s a flurry of websites shutting down their comment sections, to Reddit cracking down on the most raucous elements of its user base.
As the traditional tools of journalism—video and voice records, writing implements, and a platform to broadcast the final product—become more widely accessible to broader segments of society, it’s no surprise that publishers will try to tap into citizen journalism as a source of free content, and if YouTube succeeds, more are sure to follow.