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How Crowdsourced Videos Affect News
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How Crowdsourced Videos Affect News

Crowdsourced video footage, which is taken by amateurs and uploaded onto platforms like YouTube or Facebook, is having a revolutionary impact on the way news is told.

That is the premise behind a report put out by the Center for International Media Assistance, in which author Jane Sasseen digs deep to uncover the roots and potential effects of “The Video Revolution,” as the report is titled.

It is no secret that social media is having a huge impact on journalism by crowdsourcing knowledge, viewpoints, and evidence that would not surfaced in years past. This means “journalists are no longer the gatekeepers,” as Ivan Sigal, executive director at Global Voices, states in Sasseen’s report.

One of the platforms that is affecting news coverage the most is YouTube. Sasseen focuses on the video sharing site (as well as live streaming services) to highlight the benefits and challenges that come with crowdsourcing videos for the news. The author discusses, chiefly, the example of the Arab uprisings, though she does touch upon examples from Russia and a few other countries.

She begins by pointing out the growing numbers of citizens across the world that have access to phones with video capabilities, and explains that mobile data usage is expected to rise significantly due to video. She then delves into the positives of crowdsourced video journalism – more accountability, access to a broader range of viewpoints, the ability to get a story into mainstream media. But it's not all positive – Sasseen is careful to explore the downsides of crowdsourcing videos, too.

For one, the footage can rarely be verified, despite organizations’ best efforts. The BBC, as Sasseen notes, employs a team that checks everything from the weather report on the day the footage was supposedly filmed to the accents of the people in the video, to see if they sound authentic. Some activists have begun to help verify the videos on their own, by showing the day’s newspaper, for example.

Sasseen also spends a considerable amount of time discussing the intentions of those behind the camera – now, many of the videos coming from Syria, for example, are shot by activists who are no longer simply ‘citizen journalists.' Should activists supporting Bashar al-Assad also get airtime for their videos? Sasseen also explains that videos can be tracked back to the uploaders, which can come with potentially deadly ramifications. Those who show the day’s newspaper or street signs to make a video easier to verify are at an even greater risk.

Sasseen concludes her report with a number of suggestions for newsrooms: organize training for citizen journalists, both online and on the ground; establish best practices for authenticating videos; do a better job of pointing out the videos that have not been verified. These are good tips, but it’s unclear how helpful they can be in the long term – after all, citizen journalism relies on submissions from those who are not necessarily trained.

Still, the report is a worthwhile read, primarily for those looking to understand how crowdsourced videos are affecting the journalistic landscape. To access the full report, click here.

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