On March 11, 2011, an earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale struck the coast of northeastern Japan, triggering a tsunami that would kill more than 18,000 people and leave an estimated $180 billion in damage. The news media worldwide provided extensive coverage of the disaster and its aftermath, but millions of people also turned to the web to learn about the event on the video sharing website YouTube.
In the seven days following the disaster (March 11-18), the 20 most viewed news-related videos on YouTube all focused on the tragedy-and were viewed more than 96 million times.
What people saw in these videos also represented a new kind of visual journalism. Most of that footage was recorded by citizen eyewitnesses who found themselves caught in the tragedy. Some of that video was posted by the citizens themselves. Most of this citizen-footage, however, was posted by news organizations incorporating user-generated content into their news offerings. The most watched video of all was shot by what appeared to be fixed closed-circuit surveillance camera at the Sendai airport.
The disaster in Japan was hardly a unique case. Worldwide YouTube is becoming a major platform for viewing news. In 2011 and early 2012, the most searched term of the month on YouTube was a news related event five out of 15 months, according to the company's internal data.
What is the nature of news on YouTube? What types of events "go viral" and attract the most viewers? How does this agenda differ from that of the traditional news media? Do the most popular videos on YouTube tend to be videos produced by professional news organizations, by citizens or by political interest groups or governments? How long does people's attention seem to last?
The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism examined 15 months' worth of the most popular news videos on the site (January 2011 to March 2012)-some 260 different videos in all-by identifying and tracking the five most-viewed videos each week located in the "news & politics" channel of YouTube, analyzing the nature of the video, the topics that were viewed most often, who produced them and who posted them.
Read the full report, A New Kind of Visual News, on the Project for Excellence in Journalism's website.