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Google launches YouTube Newswire to verify eyewitness videos

The search giant wants to make it easier for news outlets to find on-the-ground videos about current events.

Google announced new projects having to do with eyewitness videos. Joan E. Solsman/CNET

YouTube -- and the ability for people to easily shoot videos from their phones -- has changed the way news outlets report on big events. Now Google wants to help the media find eyewitness videos and make sure they are trustworthy.

To do that, the search giant on Thursday launched YouTube Newswire, which gathers together and verifies eyewitness videos from current events so news outlets can add them to their stories.

The service is a joint project between the News Lab at Google and Storyful, a News Corp-owned startup that focuses on news coming from the social Web. The two companies have partnered since 2011, when protests broke out in Egypt's Tahrir Square.

"The role of the eyewitness has never had a more vital place in the newsgathering process," said Oliva Ma, who heads the News Lab, in a blog post Thursday. "It's almost impossible to turn on the news during a breaking event without seeing raw video uploaded by a YouTube user somewhere across the globe."

The move underscores tech giants' increasing role in helping the media to produce news. Facebook launched a similar service with Storyful last year, called FB Newswire. YouTube's new service also highlights how important crowd-sourced video has become, especially as more people use smartphone cameras to document what's going on around them.

YouTube is the largest video site in the world, with 1 billion unique visitors a month. Those people are watching more than 5 million hours of news video on YouTube everyday, according to Ma.

At launch, several of the videos on the Newswire are around the day's biggest news stories: A shooting at a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and floods in Texas and Oklahoma. The videos come from both eyewitness and local newspapers, and have been verified by Storyful's team of editors.

In addition to the newswire, YouTube on Thursday announced two other projects that have to do with eyewitness journalism. One of the projects, called the First Draft Coalition, will serve as an educational resource for journalists -- helping them to verify eyewitness videos and consider the ethics of using them in stories. The other is a partnership with the Witness Media Lab, focused on eyewitness videos having to do with human rights issues.