Depending on your point of view, there’s nothing as amusing — or terrifying — as an industry that is clueless about what it should do next. At a time when Old Media is hitting a new low of originality — expect new Rambo and Beverly Hills Cop installments over the coming months — they’re now so desperate for new ideas that they are looking for amateurs to deliver them. Yahoo and Reuters are just the latest pair of companies trying to leverage citizen journalists with camera phones and, as Scott Kirsner notes in an op-ed in Sunday’s Mercury News, that’s only the beginning. In “As online viewing booms, amateurs give way to big media,” Kirsner, who runs the CinemaTech blog, surveys the various aggregators looking to be the next YouTube (or, at least, looking to be valued as the next YouTube). He follows how homegrown videocasts gradually are being pushed aside by content developed for these networks by bigger media players. Indeed, what brought YouTube into mainstream consciousness wasn’t a homegrown act like lonelygirl15, but “Lazy Sunday,” produced for the so-middle-of-the-road-it-might-as-well-be-a-highway-divider Saturday Night Live. Web videos are about to become more professional-looking. As Paul Palumbo, research director at AccuStream iMedia, tells Kirsner, “Pretty soon, it’s not going to be good enough to have a video of a guy holding onto a pole in a gale storm.”
That may well be, but it’s not stopping professional news organizations from outfitting their reporters with virtual poles. As a page one piece in today’s Washington Post shows, Gannett’s Fort Myers News Press is following one of the lessons of YouTube and going as hyperlocal as possible. Some of the detail in the story is a bit self-conscious (“The glow of the screen illuminates his face.”), but the piece does a good job of laying out how some papers have seen where journalism is going — very, very local — and are giving its reporters the tools to compete. Perhaps the next thing they’ll give each reporter is a YouTube account.