It sure sounds great: YouTube Direct, announced Tuesday, allows video bloggers and citizen journalists to more easily submit video to established news organizations, and it gives those publications a slick tool for soliciting and sorting through clips for posting on their sites.
News sites rarely ever have a reporter on-scene to cover breaking or specialized news – take the heroic landing of US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River last January, or even last week's crash of a million-dollar Bugatti. In both cases, the everyday people who captured dramatic images of news occurring used consumer video equipment and social media to share what they'd seen, and established news organizations were left scrambling to piece together the details.
YouTube Direct deputizes the cameraphone set. It's similar to CNN's iReport, the "submit your news" feature that recently saw the spotlight after it was revealed that 'Balloon Boy' father Richard Heene had submitted clips to it.
But what does the YouTube Direct submitter get when his or her video is splashed across computer screens and cable channels? Internet fame? Meh. A link back to a YouTube page? OK, but still not quite there. In a blog post explaining the new system, YouTube says that submitting videos to 'Direct' is a way for users to gain "broader exposure and editorial validation." But shouldn't there be something more than just a link back to a YouTube profile (even if it is set up with ads?) Something that could keep shooters from having to look through these?
Much more can be and already has already been written about this, but it's almost as if "free," the concept on which so many Internet features are built, (including, ahem, news) has gone too far. OK, maybe it went too far long ago. But news organizations pay their reporters. They pay for photos. They pay freelancers who pitch stories to them. Why should this type of video be treated any differently?
YouTube Direct's introductory blog post points to a few news sites that are already making use of the feature for community engagement. All but one have so far used it to ask for video comments or responses to poll questions. (The Huffington Post is using it to solicit a citizen journalist contest.) No one's saying news sites should pay for these. But if there is a news event whose coverage is enhanced by first-person video from a Direct user, shouldn't the shooter be compensated?