A new survey from the Pew Research Center looks at YouTube’s role in the evolving world of online news, providing an interesting look at how people use the service, and what kinds of videos make it to the top of the charts. The study finds that not only did citizens contribute 39 percent of YouTube’s most popular news videos, they were also responsible for posting (without permission) a large number of videos produced by news organizations to the site — again, 39 percent. The remaining 61 percent of news organization content was uploaded by the organizations themselves.

The Japanese earthquake and tsunami was the biggest story of the year

That the prevalence of cell phone cameras is creating a huge shift toward user-generated news content is hardly news in itself, but the Pew study turns up some interesting numbers about which videos gain the most traction with viewers. The study tracked the five most popular "news and politics" videos every week from January 2011 to March 2012, finding that those with "intense visuals" were most popular, citing as examples those of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and the Russian elections. It also finds that "news videos can outpace even the biggest entertainment videos," pointing to those of "golden-voiced" Ted Williams as evidence, making us aware of the blurring distinction between more "traditional" news, and viral videos that are newsworthy in their own right.

Overall, the study finds strong evidence for what it calls a "symbiotic relationship" on YouTube between citizens and news organizations. Both are creating content, both are re-distributing the other’s work, and both are adapting to the shift in paradigm.