In allowing almost anyone a platform, the internet has had a clear impact on the way in which information is disseminated. Online video has been one of the most major game changers in this respect and traditional journalism is only just starting to catch up with the new possibilities it presents.
YouTube is leading this online video revolution with thousands of people uploading their own videos of news events and sharing them with their followers. As major news stories break, local people often find themselves better placed than professional media channels to capture the action, resulting in millions of views for amateur shots.
Following the tsunami that struck the northeastern coast of Japan back in 2011, for example, the 20 most viewed news-related videos on YouTube all focused on the event. They were viewed more than 96 million times in that week alone.
Not all of the footage was professional; some of it came from the news channels, while some was that of locals filming what was happening to their neighbourhood. As time went on, it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between the professional footage and that of amateurs, with more and more people sharing and integrating videos.
The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism looked at 15 months' worth of footage of the most popular news videos on YouTube. It discovered a number of key trends among users' sharing habits.
The most popular news videos tended to show natural disasters or political upheaval with very intense visuals, including the Japanese tsunami, the elections in Russia and the unrest in the Middle East, with the most popular videos found to be those that offered a mix of edited and raw footage.
While YouTube's guidelines go someway to encourage people to provide attribution, the mixup between video ownership appears to need more rules to be implemented to ensure that everybody knows exactly what the best practice is when it comes to online video. This will prove especially important as the phenomenon continues to grow.
The growing popularity of YouTube and its unique position to allow anyone the chance to post a video means that almost any content has the potential to go viral. News videos that strike the right balance are picked up by millions of people and shared around the world.