When News Breaks, Study Finds People Turn to YouTube

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Justin Bieber and Charlie the finger-biting baby have some competition. A third of the most searched terms on YouTube are now news-related.

Videos of storms, political upheaval, and other major news events have become increasingly popular on the video-sharing site, according to a new study from the Pew Research Group. The analysis looked at the 260 most popular YouTube videos over a 15-month period —January 2011 to March 2012 — Japanese earthquake and tsunami were some of the most searched videos on the site.

New York has had plenty of examples of where people turned to YouTube to see the news, rather than the TV, such as when a U.S. Airway jet performed an emergency landing on the Hudson River in 2009.

Adrian Mueller, a 36-year-old photographer from Brooklyn, created one news-related video that went viral. He makes a living from still photos he shoots for advertisements, but it was a simple video he shot with a Canon PowerShot that sent him to the top of the YouTube charts.

In September 2010, he posted a video of a tornado he took from his living room window in Brooklyn and was amazed when it racked up 1.2 million hits and more than 2,000 comments.

"It increased steadily for about 7 days and it spread from North America to Europe to Asia," Mueller said. "I think it went through social networks and took a few days to really reach the million mark."

Mueller's video is part of a trend that Amy Mitchell of Pew calls a new form of visual journalism.

"To be able to see the power of the waves crashing down. To see the power of feeling the protests almost in your face is a different experience than seeing it through a network broadcast or a cable broadcast," she said.

According to the Pew study, news organizations are using more user-generated content in their broadcasts.

Mueller became part of that trend as well when his video was picked up by NBC News, the Weather Channel and other networks. He was even interviewed on air that night about what he saw when the tornado came to town.