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Page 594 . XXXXXXXXXXVolume 8, Issue 2 XXXXXXXXXXNovember 2011 Unruly publics and the fourth estate on YouTube Luke Goode, Alexis McCullough & Gelise O'Hare University of Auckland, Aotearoa/New...

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Page 594

XXXXXXXXXXVolume 8, Issue 2
XXXXXXXXXXNovember 2011

Unruly publics and the fourth estate on YouTube
Luke Goode, Alexis McCullough & Gelise O'Hare
University of Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

It is now commonly claimed that new online platforms have made news more participatory,
more of a ‘conversation’ than a ‘lecture’. Mainstream news outlets, though in principle keen
to capitalise on new opportunities for engagement with audiences, are often tentative in
the steps they take in this direction. Various commercial risks, as well as opportunities, are
associated with linking
anded content to the frequently rancorous and hostile arenas of
online conversation. This paper looks at the example of YouTube, a notoriously unruly and
uncivil conversational domain, and explores some of the textures and facets of
conversational participation by audiences now being staged within the official
channels of established mainstream news outlets. Combining analysis of comment threads
with theoretical reflections on the nature and function of online conversation spaces such as
that provided by YouTube, this paper considers the value of such spaces for the outlet, for
audiences and for the public sphere at large.
Keywords: YouTube, news, public sphere.
Introduction – YouTube and the Public Sphere
In a 2008 report entitled ‘The Flattening of Politics’, YouTube’s news and political editor,
Steve Grove, sketched out some of the benefits for mainstream news organisations that
ace the new ‘political ecosystem’ of the social media sphere XXXXXXXXXXA number of
outlets including CNN, the BBC, Fox News, The New York Times, The Guardian, Associated
Press and Reuters have YouTube channels, some providing more extensive content archives
than others. There are, of course, strategic and commercial risks for media organisations
that don’t engage with this dominant new platform. The issue is not merely one of
heightening an outlet’s visibility in today’s hyper-competitive attention economy but is also
one of control: media outlets routinely find their content circulating round social networks
unofficially in any case and there may be compelling reasons (rights management challenges
notwithstanding) to provide such content on an official,
anded and advertising-supported
asis. But the benefits of engagement that Grove lauds are simultaneously commercial and
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Page 595

civic. Political campaigners, NGOs and interest groups have found, via YouTube and other
online social networks, unprecedented opportunities to connect directly with the citizens
their messages are tailored towards (and, as a by-product, with new non-target audiences).
So too, Grove argues, mainstream media organisations—far from being rendered redundant
in this increasingly unfiltered communications environment—have an important role to play
in shaping what he describes as 'the world’s largest town hall for political discussion’. Whilst
much has been made of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ acting in a kind of ‘Fifth Estate’ role
(Cooper, 2006)—be it citizen journalists ‘scooping’ the Fourth Estate with immediate
eyewitness footage, or bloggers who take apart the biases, omissions and factual
inaccuracies of mainstream media reports—still, or perhaps more than ever, ‘citizens
desperately need the Fourth Estate to provide depth, context and analysis that only comes
with experience and the sharpening of the craft’ (Grove, XXXXXXXXXXWe might also append to
this list of professional media virtues citizens’ dependency on the resources (labour,
technology, access credentials etc.) of mainstream media.
Unsurprisingly, Grove does not rehearse the risks that mainstream media may face in
venturing into this relatively low-cost/high-reach medium, be it the risks of cannibalising
traditional revenue streams or, significantly, exposing a media
and to a forum for
unmoderated—and notoriously uncivil—public discussion. Grove is of course interested in
promoting a positive vision of YouTube's conversational qualities in order to attract media
uy-in: it is conversation that promises to improve the 'stickiness' of the YouTube platform,
giving advertisers better access to users who will stay longer and return more often to
particular channels. For Grove, the strategic paradigm for communications professionals has
shifted in the era of online social networks from a linear one of dissemination towards an
interactive one based on participation. Here the issue becomes one of how various agents
(be they candidates, lo
y groups or news organisations) ‘get their … messages into the
conversation’ (Grove, XXXXXXXXXXGrove is drawing on a trope that has now become
commonplace in discussions of news in the digital age. Dan Gillmor XXXXXXXXXXis one particularly
influential commentator on the rise of citizen journalism who has argued forcefully that, in
the twenty-first century, news has become less akin to a ‘lecture’ and more akin to a
‘conversation’. The implications for those in professional journalism who fail to heed this
flattening and ostensibly democratising shift are ominous. But the term ‘conversation’ itself
isks being conceptually flattened. Not all conversations are of equal quality or civic value
and the conversations that play out on YouTube are often perceived as an outlet for anger,
oredom, semi-literacy and self-publicity rather than civil deliberation. This stereotypical
(which is not to say wholly unfounded) image of YouTube as a medium with a low signal-to-
noise ratio is underscored by the attempts that owners Google have made to introduce
tools (such as spam markers and comments ratings) to improve that ratio. A third party tool
available as a Firefox
owser extension called ‘YouTube Comment Snob’, which allows
users to set tolerance thresholds for bad spelling, profanity, all-caps and excessive
punctuation, neatly exemplifies the dubious reputation YouTube has acquired.
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Page 596
Grove's positive view of YouTube’s conversational qualities is contested not only within the
end-user community but also by many social media professionals. Consider, as an exemplar,
the views of Senior Vice-President (Digital Strategy) of PR firm Ogilvy Worldwide. In a blog
post entitled ‘Why Brands Should Skip the “Conversation” on YouTube’ Rohit Bhargava
draws a stark contrast between the genuinely valuable conversations of the Web 2.0
environment at large and the debased racism, swearing and ‘idiotic’ conversations of
YouTube specifically:
In every other medium, from blogs to microsites to forums, comments are
great. They invite conversation and offer a chance for dialogue... Look at most
logs, and the comments will likely add to the dialogue. That's not the case on
YouTube, and I think we are all noticing it… For some reason, commenting on
videos encourages stupidity. (2007)
His recommended strategies of moderating or disabling comments on YouTube also ca
isks, though, especially perhaps for commercial media outlets whereby accusations of
censorship can be highly problematic for
and reputation. The dilemmas faced here can be
ather starkly exemplified by the case of Al Jazeera English, which disables comments on a
large number of its YouTube videos. The following thread on one of their comments-
enabled videos illustrates a double bind: the risks of frustrating viewers’ Fifth Estate
aspirations and the risks of opening up the channel, thereby exposing the
and to the kind
of debasement of which some social media marketers warn:

In search of a more discriminating perspective, scholarly analysis of the conversational
qualities of new media spaces is often framed (explicitly or implicitly) by a Habermasian
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'public sphere' ethos (Habermas, XXXXXXXXXXThe temptation is to weigh up the potential that
interactive spaces like YouTube provide for civic and deliberative dialogue against the
messier realities of the communication actually occu
ing. Analysing YouTube according to
such a normative yardstick, it is liable to be found seriously wanting. Terms like
‘deliberation’ and ‘dialogue’ suggest, among other things, an orientation towards turn-
taking and the mutual quest for an overlap between ‘horizons of understanding’ (if not
necessarily consensus). But these norms are, of course, generated a priori rather than
discerned empirically.1 Investigating how YouTube ‘conversations’ operate beyond the
normative boundaries of the public sphere ethos, though, does not compel us towards
uncritical description (less still, populist cele
ation) of their alterity and resistance to
singular normative frameworks.
It may well be valuable to seek to understand such incontinent new media spaces as
‘heterotopias’ (after Foucault, 1967) rather than as Habermasian ‘public spheres’ (see, for
example, Haider and Sundin, XXXXXXXXXXYet the fact is that many people remain keenly
interested in (and invest hope and energy in) the civic potentials of new media forums such
as YouTube. This includes many journalists and other news professionals but also many
YouTube users themselves as the thread excerpted above exemplifies. Just as historians
ought out the more ‘feral’ qualities of the historical public spheres overly idealised in
Habermas’s own work without throwing the baby out with the bathwater (see Calhoun,
1992), so too we can investigate the public sphere afforded by YouTube in the context of
(rather than as subsumed by) its complex, contradictory and somewhat chaotic textures.
Our approach in this paper is, then, to contribute to a ‘thickening out’ (in Clifford Geertz's
[1973: 3-30] anthropological sense) of the idea of the public sphere in order to add to the
stock of more realistic insights into the nature and civic implications of the conversations
playing out on YouTube. The premise for this approach is our qualified agreement with a
leading anthropologist of online social networks in her observation that ‘Given the scholarly
attention to civic publics, it is often hard to remember that people participate in public life
for other reasons; identity development, status negotiation, community maintenance, and
so on’ (boyd, 2008: 243). Our agreement is qualified by the obverse observation that it is
also necessary to remember that people often participate in social media spaces for civic
easons and not merely
Answered Same Day Apr 18, 2020


Soumi answered on Apr 20 2020
137 Votes
Summary of the article by Goode, McCullough & O’Hare (2011)
· The article by Goode, McCullough & O’Hare (2011) is an exemplary study on the issue of overtly participation of the audiences or viewers in the fourth estate to express their viewpoints more than deriving information from it.
· The authors have very clearly presented a clear picture of unruly public, by citing specific examples from YouTube.
· According to Vos and Singer (2016), the press media or the profession of journalism is refe
ed to as the fourth estate because it is an indirectly existing ruling body in the country that holds ample power...

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