YouTube Connects San Francisco TV Station with Citizen Journalists

There’s a brand new videographer at KGO-TV in San Francisco: you.

As part of its ongoing “uReport” effort to solicit user-submitted content, the ABC station is now working directly with YouTube and taking advantage of its YouTube Direct technology, which lets news sites request, review and re-broadcast user-generated videos.

The experimental partnership, which launched in late July, is aimed at marrying the editorial acumen of a traditional newsroom with the user-generated immediacy of online video. At the heart of the experiment is a video pipeline with enormous breadth, from viewers to independent local media organizations to YouTube to KGO.

When people visit KGO’s site, they’re presented with a familiar YouTube-style uploading interface. The videos that users submit are added to their own personal YouTube accounts, just as they would be if they uploaded them to YouTube.com. The difference is that the videos are also placed in a pipeline for KGO to review.

“YouTube is the platform that is providing the infrastructure,” explained Olivia Ma, YouTube’s News Manager. “And ABC 7 is serving as the editorial arbiter as the content comes in.”

Producers select videos to feature on the station’s newscasts and have several a day to choose from, said Jennifer Mitchell, KGO’s director of Web operations. Recently-featured videos include a piece of public art being assembled along the waterfront, a late-night party at a local museum, and Spanish soccer team Real Madrid leaving a San Francisco hotel.

YouTube has offered its platform to news organizations in the past, but this is the first time the company has worked in direct collaboration with a local outlet.

“We’re definitely seeing this as a starting place for YouTube to get our feet wet in the local news space,” Ma said, “and we’re hoping to learn a lot.”

Local news sites bridge journalist/citizen divide

The collaboration reaches across four types of participants. There’s KGO, the broadcaster; and YouTube, the platform. There are regular folks with video recording devices who just happen to be in the right place at the right time. And there are numerous local independent video organizations that YouTube has involved.

A crucial question, said YouTube’s Ma, was “how can we connect news organizations with the citizen reporters on YouTube who are already practicing newsgathering habits?”

So YouTube brought the Bay Area Video Coalition into the conversation. BAVC is a local media powerhouse, a nonprofit that provides training and technical facilities and recently assumed operation of the city’s public access television facilities.

Wendy Levy, BAVC’s director of creative programming, has facilitated the relationship between YouTube, KGO and citizen journalists. “What we want to do is to be able to create a vibe of community and a high level of technical expertise,” she said.

To that end, BAVC adapted its existing videography and digital media classes to fit KGO’s specifications. To create a greater sense of community, BAVC sought volunteer students from local organizations that already produce video, including The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Youth Media Outlook and a local Gannett blog called “The Bold Italic.” So far, more than 100 people have taken part in a class Levy described as “mobile cinematography.”

Muni Diaries, a site that focuses exclusively on the public transit system in San Francisco, is one of the citizen journalism sites that has received training from BAVC and created videos that KGO can use.

Editor Eugenia Chien, who also reports for New America Media and public radio station KALW-FM, said she has encouraged the site’s readers to take BAVC’s training program and has started assigning video stories to those who have completed it. The videos readers create then become part of the pipeline of user-generated, hyperlocal content that KGO can select from.

“Compared to larger ‘mainstream’ news organizations, local websites like Muni Diaries have an audience that is arguably much more engaged in a conversation about local news,” Chien said. “On Muni Diaries in particular, our audience already contributes content regularly.”

Creating a virtual assignment desk

Ma said that by using YouTube Direct, KGO can create its own virtual assignment desk that enables the station to request footage or reactions. The community can then respond to those requests.

In Ma’s experience, that interaction between broadcaster and community has proven crucial. “We’ve seen that with YouTube Direct, partners who invest in the community and make their audiences know that they really want to hear their ideas are going to be really successful,” she said.

KGO currently uses an “Assignment Desk” Twitter account to track down sources. So far, the station hasn’t used YouTube Direct to request footage of breaking news events, and none of the featured video has included interviews or voice-overs. The station has, however, suggested different topics for people to address in the videos they create.

Setting up an incentive for users

Incentives for each of the parties involved is crucial to the success of the experiment. KGO gets free content; YouTube gets users; partner organizations get the prestige of partnering with major companies. But what’s in it for citizens?

“A lot of people still really care about TV,” said Ma. “It’s still the easiest and fastest way to get your message out to a lot of people all at once. … The idea is that you can help decide which stories get covered, and how the media is portraying your neighborhood.”

Levy said she hopes that merging old and new media will have a democratizing effect, allowing mass media to represent a more diverse audience. “A lot of times traditional broadcast news is whitewashed, and unique perspectives are marginalized,” she said. “I just don’t think that plays anymore.”

News consumers’ habits have no doubt changed in recent years. Online, many users want to participate in the shaping of local stories. This focus on hyperlocal content is of particular interest to YouTube.

“YouTube is a global site, but we’ve found through some user behavior on the site that there’s a strong interest in local content,” said Ma. “We feel that there’s a lot of opportunity in the local space. We’re hoping to learn as much as we can to understand what types of footage people submit when they’re asked to document news and events around them, and ideally we’ll be able to take this model and see if we can get other broadcasters to want to do that same thing.”

After just a few weeks, the program has already had an impact on the content users submit.

“Before we partnered with YouTube, we were getting mostly breaking news videos and photos, which was great,” said Mitchell. “But what we’re getting now is more just a scene from your community. A day in the life of where a person lives. … We’re calling them ‘Bay Area Scenes.’ “

Although Mitchell acknowledged that it’s still too early to draw any conclusions, she said she is optimistic that the experiment will prove valuable: “At the end of it, if we come out knowing what worked, that’s a great learning experience.”

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