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Thursday, June 17, 2010

YouTube Explains Top Secret 'News Experiment' to Local Media, But Doesn't Really

Posted By on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 6:35 PM

Sometimes this new media transition thing can be so, how you say, awkward.

According to SFAppeal blogger Eve Batey, Google-owned video aggregator YouTube is up to some hush hush citizen journalism project here in our very own San Francisco. Apparently part of a select group of "San Francisco bloggers, writers, and digital journalists," Batey received the below vague email earlier today.

On Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 2:20 PM

< [Redacted]> wrote:

Hi Eve,

I am leading a project at YouTube and I thought you might like to be

a part of it. [Redacted] gave me your contact information.

For the months of July and August, YouTube is going local in San

Francisco to encourage citizen videographers -- anyone with a video-capable

phone or camera, really, -- to help cover San Francisco's news, issues and events

and we want local news sites to join us.

If you're interested, I'm rounding up a group of San Francisco bloggers, writers and digital journalists next week to speak about the project in more detail in person. Please let me know which dates work for you here [see below image]:

  • They chose a particularly ironic title.

As a precaution, I would like to add that we've not yet launched this

project publicly yet, so please be discreet about who you speak with about it.



YouTube News Associate

According to rest of the email chain forwarded to the SF Weekly, Batey responded that she did not have a video-enabled phone and was confused regarding what exactly was being asked of her. She got a response that YouTube was already "mobilizing 150 citizen journalists throughout the city with smartphones" and that all she asked was that Batey "use some of the footage."

When Batey pressed the YouTube rep for more information during a later phone call, Batey was simply sent a link to an Atlantic article entitled "How to Save the News" with note, "Perhaps this article will help to explain Google's interest in helping professional journalists. Maybe you've read it?"

To the rep's credit, there is some clarification to be found about five pages in:

"Google's hope is that broader use of YouTube videos could substantially boost a news organization's long-term ability to engage an audience. Amateur-produced video is perhaps the most powerful new tool of the Internet era in journalism, making the whole world a potential witness to dramas, tragedies, achievements almost anywhere. The idea behind the various YouTube projects is that the same newspapers that once commanded an audience with printed reports of local news, sports, crime, and weather could re-create their central role by becoming a clearinghouse for video reports."

Maybe this is YouTube's clumsy attempt to scale  The Bold Italic's successful Neighborhood Watch project? In any case, parsing the Atlantic piece leads us to believe this might be some kind of blogger outreach campaign for YouTube Direct, a tool which allows webmasters to integrate YouTube functionality into their news sites. 

"I can't communicate how frustrating it was to keep asking what they wanted from us," Batey told the SF Weekly, "I need details." We've reached out to YouTube for those details (Is there payment involved? What do you mean by "citizen journalist"?) and official comment and are waiting to hear back.

In the meantime, if anyone has any more info please email me at

Update 9:15 PDT Peter Kafka has a full explanation including an official statement from YouTube over at MediaMemo. Hint: It is a blogger outreach campaign for YouTube Direct.

Follow us on Twitter @alexia and @sfweekly.   

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Alexia Tsotsis


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