News YouTube Can Use

Shocker: The Internet Loves Videos of Natural Disasters

Who needs the nightly news, anyway?
screen shot 2012 07 16 at 8 50 48 am Shocker: The Internet Loves Videos of Natural Disasters

News you can use (if you are a hedgehog).

Coming soon to a Newsroom episode near you: The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reports today that people are increasingly turning to YouTube for news. Walter Cronkite it ain’t, but what are you gonna do?

The report illustrates its findings with the example of the  2011 Japanese tsunami. In the seven days after the disaster, “the 20 most viewed news-related videos on YouTube all focused on the tragedy,” and they were viewed more than 96 million times. That’s pretty impressive, but it’s not exactly eclipsing the evening news:

Twenty-two million people on average watch the evening news on the three broadcast channels each night in the United States alone, and larger numbers watch local TV newscasts.”

Pew insists the tsunami is a representative example, noting that, “in 2011 and early 2012, the most searched term of the month on YouTube was a news related event five out of 15 months.” But the study also noted that,

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%).

In other words, the news videos that blow up look a lot like the Internet’s typical viral content.

And it sounds like news organizations are smart enough to realize that and borrow a little bit of YouTube’s rocket fuel, too. For all the talk of citizen journalism, the report points out that much of the citizen-shot footage was uploaded to YouTube by news organizations. The overall most-watched video (CCTV footage from the Sendai airport) prominently features a Russia Today logo in the lower third.

Hey, wait a minute–hasn’t “if it bleeds, it leads” been a news cliche for decades now?

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com