Week 4 - Janice, Karen, Vanessa & Yannie

How does YouTube change journalism?

Journalism, according to the Merriam-Webster online Dictionary, implies the collection and editing of news for presentation via the mass media, in which it is characterized by direct presentation of facts and description of events without attempts of interpretation for appealing to current public interest. Over the past decade, the definition of journalism has been modified. A new term, citizen journalism, has also been created due to the advent of internet together with the advanced technology. Anyone being literate and with the access to publish news or own opinions can then engage in citizen journalism. This is one of the most obvious differences compared with the traditional journalism as people do not necessarily be trained as journalists. The internet, a platform where people can have sharing through texts and photos, opened the field of citizen journalism. Yet, YouTube, the platform for individuals’ sharing which was founded in 2005, has furthered enlarged the scope of citizen journalism as videos even generate more influences and feedback than pure texts and photos.

As mentioned above, anyone who is literate and can access to the internet can engage in citizen journalism. This greatly solved the problems of temporal and spatial discrepancies which exist in the traditional world of journalism. As resources of news organizations or news agency are limited, reporters can hardly be sent to places all over the world to get the news at once. Hence, excluding the news itself, pictures of the news events we see from TV, newspapers or magazines may not be the immediate situations. On the other hand, passers-by who witness the incidents can immediately record the events simply with their mobile phones or digital cameras then upload them onto YouTube. Perhaps the witnesses are not professional journalists, but those videos uploaded onto the site can be served as news coverage which goes even earlier than official news reports on TV. Apart from better efficiency in recording news by citizen journalists, the unconstrained time and unlimited frequency for people to access to YouTube is another advantage of updating people about the latest world. In other words, when compared with other electronic media like TV and radio, YouTube, associated with the internet, speeds up the flow of information delivery.

In the past, journalism is a one-way reporting where audiences are only informed from the mass media like TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. However, YouTube offers a platform for audiences to give while they receive. News consumers now can be news providers. Any internet users can be a journalist sharing specific issues or current events on YouTube rather than just attaining news from traditional news media. YouTube users not only can upload videos onto the site, they can also leave comments and ratings towards some particular videos. Although it may create more disagreements within the community, this kind of interaction can make more people concern about the social affairs and look into the news. In other words, such kind of interactive journalism can provide multi-directional viewpoints for news issues, especially for those controversial ones such as the local current affair of the express rail. Therefore, YouTube not only functions as a communication platform, but also pushes journalism forward.

Meanwhile, YouTube enriches the variety of news stories. As mentioned earlier, associated with the internet, YouTube allows the appearance of citizen journalists. Many general citizens upload their personal experiences, opinions and do sharing on the site. News stories and other materials posted by the YouTube subscribers can be re-used by professional reporters. YouTube, therefore, serves as an alternative source of news to professional journalists. For instance, stories like “The Bus Uncle” (巴士阿叔) and “Airport Auntie” (機場阿嬸) were first reported by the general public and then on the newspapers and radio. Journalists no longer have to be the witnesses to get a piece of story on their own. They can attain different news story ideas from the internet as well as YouTube as the video clips can be downloaded and re-used.

In some countries, such as China and Iran, where the authorities heavily imposed censorship and prevent media from reporting the news which they are not favor in. Not only being excluded from the ‘reality’, citizens there have a low level of freedom of speech without freely express their feelings. Journalists from other countries would also find it difficult in getting news or ‘real’ news in those conservative countries. Fortunately, the internet and YouTube provide an interactive platform for individuals and organizations to report and attain news, as well as sharing comments. For instance, when the presidential re-election was held on 12 June last year, there were protests against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The government stopped foreign journalists from reporting the messy situation and protests in Iran. Yet, many articles, photos and videos were uploaded onto YouTube by some Iranians so that foreign news organizations and netizens could see a better picture of the real situations in Iran directly through YouTube.

In the dimension of professional journalism, credibility is highly recognized as the media, news organization and news agencies have to bear legal responsibility for all broadcasts and reports. Unfortunately, the credibility is questioned as anyone can upload and publish things they care about, individuals, organizations or authorities can even publish fake news and messages, photos or videos onto YouTube with or without purposes. Sometimes, the mainstream news providers have also been duped. For instance, a woman in Denmark uploaded a three minutes video clip onto YouTube in which she was holding a baby, named August, and saying he is a result of a fling with a foreign tourist. Speaking in English, the woman said she was “trying to find August’s father". The video received over 800,000 hits. Many people believed it was real, and expressed supportive voices for the single mother. Some newspapers and television around the world even reported this ‘news’. However, it was just a hoax created by the Danish government’s tourism agency, VisitDenmark, because of the Danish government's intention to draw attention of the globe. This kind of negative exploitation of people's concern about social affairs eventually resulted in heavy criticism. Some people even questioned if that unethical video was trying to promote one-night stand.

Because of the advanced technology, everyone can record what he or she heard and saw by different electronic equipments conveniently. Before the advent of YouTube, people who want to express themselves on the internet have to be at least literate and have a certain extent of communication ability. Nowadays, for those who want to talk to the world may only be required to have some technological equipments and access to YouTube. Unfortunately, this kind of convenience for sharing information provides the ground of privacy infringement. As YouTube subscribers are not necessarily well-trained journalists, they may produce and spread some improper information which is claimed as ‘news’ but may infringe others’ privacy. Celebrities’ daily lives and behaviors usually draw the general public’s attention. Whoever witnessed some celebrities participating in some private parties or dating with friends, they may just record the occasions and disclose those celebrities’ behaviors on YouTube. Such kind of privacy infringement is a lot more than simply sharing what the eyewitnesses observed.

To summarize, journalism has not been changed radically. Still, the scope for people taking part in it is broadened to a wider circumstance. Journalism is no longer a one-way delivery of information and ideas only carried out by professional reporters or licensed media. As YouTube opened a podium for individuals to express themselves, share experiences and discuss matters people care about without special or temporal discrepancies, audiences can be benefited from a dramatic increase of news variety and be inspired of endless interaction with other YouTube subscribers. Although internet censorship imposed by various governments is inevitable, YouTube offers at least an opportunity for people to be updated of the ‘real’ world, particularly for those who live under conservative governance.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

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