Ten years is nothing, at least in the history of journalism. But a decade of YouTube has arguably changed our concept of news as much as the inventions of the printing press, television or radio.

When I created Storyful in 2010, 24 hours of video were uploaded on YouTube every minute. Now it's a 300 hour-per-minute deluge.

Just a tiny fraction of the 300 hours has the capacity to change the way we see the world. But that tiny fraction is of enormous importance. YouTube has profoundly altered and enhanced the way humanity documents its history.

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In the age of the eyewitness, YouTube is the archive of now.

Eyewitness power

Since the early and idealistic days of the Arab Spring, I have been humbled by the power of the eyewitness in comparison to traditional journalism. 

As a former foreign correspondent, I've seen war and disaster close up. But YouTube videos from a range of countries including Libya, Yemen, and Syria have been as raw, authentic and impactful as anything witnessed by an experienced correspondent, if not more.

In one memorable incident, the Storyful team discovered a YouTube video shot with a GoPro camera mounted on a Syrian government tank trundling through a devastated town. As the convoy comes to a halt, the lead tank is destroyed in front of our eyes by opposition forces hidden in the rubble. In itself, this was remarkable footage.

It got even more potent when we discovered video of that very same attack filmed by the rebel group. Two sides of the same war in real time. Conflict in double vision.

Before YouTube, you needed a journalist, a satellite dish, and a TV network to spread news from a warzone. Today, all you need is to be in the right place, at the right time, with a camera-phone and internet connection. You no longer need a TV station to reach a mass audience. All you need is a YouTube account and a social network.

Before YouTube, you needed a journalist, a satellite dish, and a TV network to spread news from a warzone. Today, all you need is to be in the right place, at the right time, with a camera-phone and Internet connection.


Journalists redundant?

So, does this mean journalists are redundant in the age of YouTube? Hell no. The value of journalism as a means of separating news from noise has never been more vital. Today, the value of journalism is in verifying, managing and contextualising the deluge of eyewitness content surging through YouTube.

Reporters no longer own the story. Their job is to filter a flood of competing narratives and connect the most authentic voices to the widest possible audience. If journalism is to remain relevant, it must give its users the ability to make choices in the face of unlimited choice.

Journalists must also embrace the importance of YouTube as a repository of history. The smartphone now bears witness to war, genocide and systematic oppression with unprecedented authenticity. In the age of the eyewitness, we can no longer say we didn't know.

In the next 10 years, journalists need to work out ways to overcome obstacles that are only now becoming apparent.

First, those of us who have spent years curating social video can testify to the impermanence of YouTube videos, which can disappear for countless reasons. History requires us to download, archive and protect the most important videos on YouTube.

Source of respect

Second, we need to treat the eyewitness on YouTube as a source who deserves profound respect. She or he deserves to be credited and compensated, where appropriate. We must be aware of our legal responsibilities when we use their content (if in doubt about any of this check out the pioneering work of the Eyewitness Media Hub). At Storyful, we observe the three C's in our dealings with YouTube creators: courtesy, consultation, and compensation.

Thirdly, newsrooms which work on YouTube need to be mindful of their responsibilities to their own staff.  Journalists working with images of extreme violence submitted to newsrooms by the public are at increased risk of adverse psychological consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Finally, those of us who believe in YouTube as a force for good must be keenly aware that others will try to use it as a tool of propaganda, hate, and brutality. Journalists, in particular, must become ever more vigilant of manipulation, both of images and minds.

These challenges shouldn't blind us to the revolutionary opportunities that YouTube has delivered during the past decade. Where the next 10 years takes us, no one can predict.

What's certain is that YouTube has put the power in our hands: eyewitnesses and journalists.


Mark Little is the founder and director of innovation at Storyful, the world's first social media news agency.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera