YouTube: A threat to journalism or an evolutionary step?
Some call them vloggers, some call them creators, some call them YouTubers. Regardless of what you choose to call them, there’s no denying that YouTube stars are on the rise.This year especially, YouTubers have gone from being teen time-passers, to interviewing the president and scoring major advertising deals.However, with the increased emphasis on young, energetic web presences, one must wonder if the profession--and yes, some YouTubers can afford to make videos full-time—is one that poses a threat to traditional journalism.
When the creators interviewed President Obama earlier this year (above) –which received over 3.4 million views – many felt it was a slap-in-the-face to journalists who were not being invited to do so. For a journalist, an interview with the US President is a once in a career moment, and even after years of schooling and writing, most never do get such an interview.
Please note: While Obama is taking time to meet with random YouTubers, he will not be meeting with @netanyahu.
— Breeanne Howe (@breeannehowe) January 22, 2015
— Tone (@HiLifeRocker) January 18, 2015
— StreamDaily (@StreamDaily) January 15, 2015
Obama's recent success with his online engagement strategy has raised the question; Is the rise of Youtubers giving way to a new form of citizen journalism?
“I think it’s fair to say that there’s a blurring of lines and that those spaces in between what we think of as a traditional journalist, and of an independent person publishing stuff on Youtube will get a bit vaguer,” says Dieter Bohn, executive editor of The Verge.
Hadas Gold, a media reporter for politico, agrees. She says that its undeniable the definition of journalism has changed in the past decade.
“We’ve been seeing this trend over the last 10 years of the citizen journalist blurring the line,” says Gold.
Still, she adds, the trend will will not necessarily negate the need for traditional journalism.
“I think that the average person still goes to a well-respected news outlet in order to get their news.”
Rather, Gold says, she believes that the Youtubers’ interview with Obama is indicative of a new style of 'infotainment' that is emerging, which she claims, is a way for important issues to be shared with young people in a manner they understand and can appreciate.
“If you went to talk to any of them, they wouldn’t consider themselves journalists either,” Gold continues. “They consider themselves personalities the same way that Ellen DeGeneres doesn’t consider herself a journalist.”
Kayley Melissa is the owner of a popular Youtube hair channel. She describes herself to be an “avid consumer of video and traditional content,” and agrees with Gold's views. Melissa says that the Youtubers interview with the President is indicative of a shifting digital landscape and that it was a necessary choice for the White House to make.
“For my generation – 18 to 26, 27, 28 or so – we’re happy with both. We’re happy to consume both Youtube and traditional media. I think people who are younger are more into Youtube because everything is going so digital,” explains Melissa.
“That’s where the audience is now. The teenagers that I know, when they get home, they don’t turn on their TVs, they open up their laptops. I think if you want to reach people where they are, and the audience as they’re growing into your target demographic, you need to be where they are.”
However, Melissa adds that the concept of 'infotainment' isn’t a new one. Rather, it’s one that has been recurring for decades – maybe even centuries.
“For young people aged 12-18, infotainment is always going to be the most influential and that would’ve been true when I was that age as well,” she says. “As you get older, you tend to choose things more seriously.”
Perhaps Melissa is correct. Perhaps the secret to all the new technology and aspects of journalism is that none of this is really new.
There was a time when radio threatened print journalism. Eventually, the two co-existed. Then, television emerged and that was considered a threat. Even that, eventually carved out its niche in journalism and found balance.
Most recently, journalists have felt threatened by the rise of bloggers – people who could go online and write news, without a formal news outlet. Now, it’s clear that the value in blogging has been found by traditional media.
Dieter Bohn agrees. He says that the key for journalists to deal with emerging technologies is learning how to chance with them.
“I’d love to wring my hands and say journalism is dead and we don’t need journalists because we’re just putting stuff on Twitter and Youtube, but I think that we can have both,” he says.
So while Youtube may be masked as a threat to journalists, it is can act as another tool to which the media will eventually adapt.
Only time will tell how journalism will change because of Youtube. It seems however, that the profession has not been killed by the platform. Rather, it has simply evolved another step.