YouTube’s Secret “News Experiment” Explained! (Warning: Not Really That Secret)

Published on June 18, 2010
by Peter Kafka

Is YouTube getting into the local news business? No, not really.

But! SF Weekly has a weird, confusing tale about YouTube’s sort of secretive effort to launch a “local news experiment” in San Francisco. You can read the whole thing here, but the gist is that staffers at the Google (GOOG) site have tapped local bloggers, reporters, etc., to gauge their interest in a project whereby “citizen videographers–anyone with a video-capable phone or camera, really”–help cover local news.

Since the YouTube folks have been vague about what they’re up to and have told potential participants to “be discreet about who you speak with about it,” the whole thing sounds vaguely ominous/exciting.

The reality, alas, is fairly dull.

It’s this: YouTube is working with a San Francisco TV station to a launch a┬ánew iteration of its YouTube Direct platform, a person familiar with the plans tells me.

YouTube Direct is supposed to help publishers gather and distribute video from amateur contributors, essentially by plugging YouTube into their sites. The program has had a bit of a success when big media organizations like NPR or ABC’s “Good Morning America” have used it.

But local news outlets, which could theoretically really use help from both YouTube and their own readers/watchers, haven’t done much with it. So the idea is to use the San Francisco version as a showcase, and YouTube staffers are trying to pre-seed the effort by rounding up local contributors.

All pretty straightforward stuff. So why the sort-of cloak-and-dagger routine? Got me. I’m told that Google and the local station are planning on making an announcement about the launch next week. But really, this seems like something you just announce and then do. Simple, right?

Here, for the record, is YouTube’s official comment on the matter:

We launched YouTube Direct in November, and it’s been a great way for news organizations to easily leverage citizen reporting on YouTube. We’re currently experimenting with new ways to make the platform more useful, and we’ll have more to announce on that front soon.

All righty! I’ve already run the best “Mr. Show” local news clip. But here’s a worthy contender:

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