YouTube Offering Citizen Journalism

A fascinating development at YouTube: The Reporters’ Center, where you can get tips on effective journalism from prominent reporters. The new YouTube channel went live today and is already offering some interesting how-to videos like the one above by reporter Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. He shows you how to be careful when trying to interview war lords with big guns, how to hide your money, and how to always be a little skeptical and double-check witness accounts and stories that sound too good. Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post has a video about the impact of citizen journalism best demonstrated by the recent uprising in Iran. During the past few weeks, the government of Iran tried to shut down the operations of journalists and restrict the use of internet and text messaging in order to suppress information about government violence against protesters. But they were not able to prevent people with cell phone cameras from making videos and sending them out of the country for the world to see. These people have also been reporting on the situation via Twitter to give real-time coverage of many events in Iran.

This movement toward citizen journalism is extremely interesting because it democratizes the press. Cameras in the hands of millions become a formidable tool for keeping an eye on government and limiting its ability to suppress information.  The press has always functioned like a fourth branch of the U.S. government, preventing the administrative, legislative, and judiciary from thinking they operate out of sight.  In fact, it probably wouldn’t hurt to constitutionally formalize the press as some kind of fourth branch!

YouTube strikes me as a perfect place to host citizen journalist reports and I think their new service points to the future of reporting. It’s interesting to see how many reporters with national reputations are taking part in the center. Their input really makes the center useful and encourages people to try their hand and reporting.  The YouTube effort is even better than CNN’s iReport because it is not a branded news service but simply a generic broadcasting service.

I’ve often thought that blogs are an even better form of the little newspapers I used to write on notebook paper when I was a kid. I’d draw comics for them and write little articles. People blogging are operating on a very similar instinct, and if they want to report news stories I think that’s a very powerful and useful tool that can do nothing but bring health to journalism and politics. The next few decades are going to see a profound struggle over freedom of expression and information in a world increasingly terrified of violent religious extremism that would gladly put an end to all freedom of expression everywhere. This is true of all religions in every part of the world, including the United States.  Also, the increasing wealth and strength of secular countries that prohibit free expression like China is going to drastically increase censorship and repression on a worldwide basis.  China has already forced Google, a seemingly intelligent company, to operate as a censor for the government. Citizen journalists are going to be fighting at the front lines of this battle against repression and censorship.  The main question really is whether services like YouTube are going to start getting nervous when some imbecilic religious government threatens YouTube executives with death over a citizen reporter’s comments about an alleged prophet?  What then?  Will YouTube cave in to barbarians?  Will YouTube censor citizen reports coming out of China or Iran because the governments tell them to?  Or will it flip the savages the YouFinger?

Let’s find out.