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New report says that YouTube evolving into a major news outlet

While YouTube is largely regarded as a haven for cat videos, it appears that more and more users are turning to the hugely popular Google-owned site for news footage.

According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, "YouTube is becoming a major platform for viewing news." In the 15 month period between January 2011 and March 2012, news-related terms topped search queries during five of the 15 months.

By far, the incident that sparked the most interest was the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Pew looked at the most popular videos in the "news & politics" section of YouTube over those 15 months and found that 5 per cent of the 260 videos related to the Japanese disaster. The most watched video (below) came from a closed-circuit camera at the Sendai airport, which captured the flood waters engulfing a nearby runway.

After the earthquake/tsunami, the Russian elections and the unrest in the Middle East topped news-related video views, Pew said.

Natural disasters and political upheavals were the most popular news video topics. People did not figure prominently; "no one individual was featured in even 5 per cent of the most popular videos studied here-and fully 65 per cent did not feature any individual at all," Pew found. US President Barack Obama, however, was featured in 4 per cent of the top videos worldwide, in posts that ranged from speeches to campaign ads from opponents.

As Pew noted, the growth of news videos on YouTube has been a help and a hindrance to traditional news outlets. Media organisations sometimes supplement their broadcasts with citizen-captured footage, but it is also another medium with which they must compete. Still, "the news viewership on YouTube is probably still outpaced by the audience for news on conventional television worldwide," Pew said.

Attribution can often be a problem. "Clear ethical standards have not developed on how to attribute the video," Pew found. "All this creates the potential for news to be manufactured, or even falsified, without giving audiences much ability to know who produced it or how to verify it."

Of the videos examined by Pew, about 39 per cent were from citizens, while 51 per cent had a news organisation logo. Edited footage was a bit more popular than raw footage at 58 per cent to 42 per cent, Pew found.

"The data reveal that a complex, symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and news organisations on YouTube, a relationship that comes close to the continuous journalistic 'dialogue' many observers predicted would become the new journalism online."

YouTube has also started to dip its toes into live coverage of newsworthy events, with the company recently announcing it would stream the 2012 London Olympics in real-time to parts of Asia and Africa.