Do You – You Tube?

Posted: April 1, 2012 in journalism

As this re-purposed journalist navigates his way up the steep, short hike of life, he’s wondering if you share his fascination and distaste for You Tube. Am I alone?

Do you You Tube? More than two billion of us watch You Tube every day.

YouTube streams 4 billion online videos each day, more than one for every other person on Earth and a 25% jump over eight months ago.

In “Watching You Tube: Extraordinary Videos by Ordinary People”, author Michael Strangelove examines the You Tube phenomenon. New media guru and MCDM instructor Drew Keller has assigned it as this week’s reading in his COM 583 Storytelling class on the University of Washington campus.

Keller’s questions:

What do you think happens to the social order if tastes are no longer closely controlled by institutionalized influences? or How would you describe the complex relations between producers and consumers?

The answer to the first question is simple – You Tube, the natural by-product of a relaxation of the institutional influences of broadcasting. As newsrooms across the nation continue to cut back in hours of programming, You Tube claims that twenty hours of video are uploaded to its servers every minute.

Twenty hours – one minute.

That’s roughly as long as it’s taken you to read from the top of this post to this point.  Twenty hours of video. What’s popular? Charlie Bit My Finger (with more than 438 million views).

This may sound old school but in the age of You Tube, high quality storytelling (visual journalism) in this country seems to be eroding. I use this blog to celebrate those who keep its purpose alive. You can also find their work on This is where you can see broadcast television storytellers like John Larson, Boyd Huppert, Wayne Freidman and John Sharify (to name jut a few) share their excellent craftsmanship with peers. This Facebook page is where journalists seek the recognition and approval of peers they respect. These are the best of the best.

It’s a page where you’ll never see “Charlie Bit My Finger.”

But Strangelove says, “We are moving into a post television era”, adding that You Tube “demands our attention, fragments audiences, worries advertisers, troubles TV execs and erodes monopolization by media corporations.” His insights into the You Tube phenomenon move the ball down the field.

You Tube levels that playing field.

It breaks down the barriers between producers and consumers. It gives anyone with a mobile phone a chance to post a video or picture. But capturing a lucky moment with two boys in a chair is one thing – crafting a story with purpose and style and direction under deadline is something else.

God bless England’s Howard Davies-Carr, the father of the boys, for being there to capture a special, honest moment with two boys on a chair sharing a moment but he’s not a journalist. He’s not a storyteller.  For that you need to spend years honing your craft and refining your talent, seeking feedback from those you respect.

For that you need a purpose. It’s the crafting of a story.

So for me, we’ll always need places where the barriers between producers and consumers exist. Strangelove quotes French sociologist and author Henri Lefebvre,  “The everyday is what’s left over after all distinct, superior, structured activities have been singled out.” You can find Lefebvre on You Tube.  The video is 9:27 long. It’s in black and white and all in French. It still has more than 15,ooo views.

Bottom line – it is the role of the storyteller to distill the “everyday” and make it memorable. Life still needs some translation. We can all see a sunset. But not everyone can find the words or the pictures to capture it and bring it back home.

Incidentally, I took that photo with my i-phone. I’m thinking of posting it to You Tube 😉

  1. mizshelby says:

    I think I’m kind of happy I will never see “Charlie bit my finger” repurposed here. 🙂 I will, however, welcome the BBC narrated animal videos. Your distinction re: what makes fun/viral video and what makes a story is a good one. As you point out, there is luck and then there is the true craft of story. As our appetite for long-form journalism dwindles (or loses fuel because not many outlets are providing that), will the same happen via video stories? Will our expectations get lowered? Sure hope not!

  2. elisechisholm says:

    John, I couldn’t agree with you more. I recently came across a Mashable article that said the average YouTube user spends 15 minutes each day viewing videos on the site, compared with the average TV viewer who spends 4-5 hours each day watching televised programs. Both of these figures seem high to me, but they illustrate that consumers still appreciate high-quality programming. There is hope! Here’s the Mashable link for reference:

  3. John, What a fantastic read! Thank you for taking the time to write down exactly what needs to be said: “He’s not a storyteller. For that you need to spend years honing your craft and refining your talent, seeking feedback from those you respect.” I believe many people have no conception of “what it takes” to be a journalist…including me, by the way. This blog post sheds light on that.

    So, “Where’s the respect?” The answer is complex, no doubt. Corporate “rule”, the downslide of education, new technologies, and the recession have contributed.

    I am inspired by your work and look forward to learning from you by example. Thank you, in advance, for bringing your experience to COM583!

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