Will YouTube be the Craigslist of TV News?

BOSTON — Watch that space: YouTube video news is here, tailored just for you, featuring news of your microlocal neighborhood, just for you.

If you haven’t seen it, YouTube News Near You is an automated microlocal news service, with software detecting a your location and matching it with video news stories from that neighborhood. Turn on, tune in, and drop out of the six o’clock local TV news.

So far the story selection is pretty limited. Think of YouTube’s new local news service as 2009’s version of the “Camel News Caravan,” NBC’s 15-minute nightly newscast of the early 1950’s, hop scotching your neighborhood for headlines. But five decades ago, John Cameron Swayze soon gave way to Huntley and Brinkley, and modern NBC television news was born. YouTube news could evolve really quickly in the next few years, or the next few months, especially as YouTube signs up local television and newspaper newsrooms around the country as video-providing partners.

And please note YouTube news is launched by Google, which dominates search advertising. YouTube news will drill down and let Google deliver ads tuned to microlocal neighborhoods, because viewers are already tagged by their location. It’s easy to imagine Google adding viewer self-selection to enable specifying which neighborhood (or neighborhoods) you want delivered to your computer: self-identification by nine-digit zip code. Now microlocal online ads start to really make sense, because advertisers can pinpoint exactly where viewers are. Coming soon to your computer: ads for momandpopstore.com

Viewers will also be able to self-select in other ways. Embedded in the very structure of YouTube is self-selection driven by choices you make. You clicked on three stories about traffic? Here’s another – and a local political candidate’s ad touting his proposals to ease traffic congestion. You liked that clip on the fire down the street? People who liked that story also liked this one, too… and by the way Amazon has a sale on fire extinguishers if you order on line in the next five minutes.

Sound farfetched? Not at all: News Near You went mainstream in The New York Times this week. But last month there were reports in the blogosphere noting YouTube’s approach to publishers asking to become a “YouTube news partner.” One blog included the text of the pitch from YouTube, complete with five benefits, from larger audiences and increased revenue to detailed demographic analyses, for free, of the people who play their videos. News Near You is snuggling much closer to you than you may have expected.

One item not included in the pitch: What will YouTube News Near You do to local journalism? It’s easy to imagine this could go either way:

On one hand, Google may have found another mother lode, and some lucky newsrooms will be partners, sharing the ad revenue and thus able to afford more and better local reporting.

At the other extreme, YouTube news could be the craigslist of video news, eviscerating the revenue that supports TV and cable news, just as Craiglist eviscerated newspaper revenue.

Of course both could happen, or some combination of these extremes. And given the accelerating pace of change, it’s likely we will not need to wait very long to whether News Near You is good news or bad news for journalism.