YouTube has created a new “News Near You” feature that senses a user’s location and offers up a list of relevant videos, allowing Youtube to “essentially engineer a local newscast on the fly.” Trouble is that right now there is not enough “professional content” from TV stations so most of the YouTube videos near you come from nontraditional sources: radio stations, newspapers, advocacy organizations, churches, colleges and, in the case of a San Francisco outfit called VidSF, three friends who despise the local TV diet of fires and homicides.
While it lasts, this is good news for grassroots groups. Instead of collecting and ranking web content automatically with digital spiders, Youtube is asking video “news makers” to sign up as a partners and then list their materials for local viewers. Since the system is driven by location, if your local TV stations are still stuck in the 20th century, you actually have a shot at controlling and framing the local YouTube content stream.
VidSF is a great example of the new breed of local news broadcasters — including ones without broadcasting licenses, the traditional barrier to entry in local markets — that is emerging online . The NYT reports that mobile phones and the increasing demand for citizen journalist content promises to make “News Near You” a dynamic and promising news space online. They point to the new iPhone, for example, which includes a video recording capability with a “send to YouTube” button, suddenly making it simple and fast to upload clips. Rachel Sterne, the founder and chief executive of the citizen journalism site GroundReport, said the feature “trains laymen to be reporters.” And YouTube says it is developing tools to automatically spotlight those citizen videos as they come in.
As we’ve said before on Crib Notes, with traditional news organizations in fiscal crisis, some of us may want to begin moving more deliberately into the reporting void as hybrid citizen journalists/activists. Since we now own our own cheap, fast and simple “printing” presses (blogs, websites), video production stations (Flip video recorders and YouTube) and broadcast networks (News Near You, listserves, Twitters feeds, Facebook, etc), we might expand out coverage of local community and political struggles to include local cultural events, inspiring human interest stories, etc. — but frame them within a larger political context. Others of us may want to increasingly give our members the tools (and training) to report on the events they care about (this may well include news that falls outside immediate organizational interests) and provide them platforms to reach larger audiences.
Just as the news industry collapses, average people are increasingly hungry for information and news about these extraordinary times we’re all living in. Maybe we can begin to fill the void.