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Can YouTube Revolutionize Citizen Journalism?

So much news coverage these days is possible because of citizen journalism — from the cell phone photos taken of the plane landing on the Hudson river, to eyewitness reports of Iranian protests submitted to CNN.

CNBC.com

Now Google's YouTube is trying to simplify and standardize the system, allowing many more people to share their clips, and many more news organizations to use them.

Called "YouTube Direct," it allows news sites to embed the YouTube platform into their sites and use it to ask readers for certain types of content allows. The sites can customize the — and if a video is viewed on YouTube, they include a link back to the Web site.

This is good news for YouTube Direct's partner content Web sites, which so far are NPR, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Politico. These Web sites get access to free content, more video clips should keep users on the Web sites for longer, and YouTube allows the sites to customize the player so it fits with the rest of their look. (It's worth noting though, that YouTube has some rules requesting approval if ads are posted. Plus, links from YouTube should only drive traffic to the news sites.

Meanwhile YouTube gets to prove itself as an ally to professional news organizations, rather than just as a destination for piracy. The companies that could really feel challenged by this are the CNN national and international networks, which already have a reputation for intelligently using citizen video. Now they'll no longer have a leg-up in that arena.

The people, who really lose out, are professional journalists.

The more free content — videos and blogs — sites like HuffingtonPost.com get for free, the less they need to pay professional journalists. With millions of people around the world owning cell phones with cameras and even video cameras, news organizations have unprecedented access to events occurring at any time, at any place. But news organizations have to be careful to distinguish between citizen journalism and the professional sort — it’s harder to verify authenticity or the intentions of the photographer. Citizen journalism is a fine supplement to professional coverage, but as a professional journalist I can't help but point out that it's no replacement. As news organizations from the New York Times on down announce layoffs and reduce foreign bureaus to mere shells, one has to wonder how much news sites will use it as a free crutch, and continue to shed professionals.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.