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YouTube vlogging proves it's a force to be reckoned with

Creating content online takes bravery and a sharp eye to break through thousands of users.

Molly Finkenthal was longboarding when she fell on her face last summer. It was a painful injury that “messed up” her nose. 

So the sophomore studying integrated media scheduled a rhinoplasty, known more commonly as a nose job. She made an appointment about a month after the accident. But before she went to the doctor to get it done, she set up a camera, sat down and turned it on. 

She filmed the entire process, cutting between clips before the surgery and after of her cast, black eyes and swollen lids. 

“Before I got the surgery, I didn’t really see that many videos of the actual journey,” Finkenthal said. “I wanted people to have that kind of support before, or if they’re choosing or debating to get one (and) realize that (a nose job is) not something people should judge you about but respect your decision.” 

The video — uploaded to her joint account, loagsandmolz, with her friend Logan Amon — has been viewed more than 60,000 times in its nine months online. That equates to a little more than Ohio University’s entire enrolled student body watching her video — twice. 

Finkenthal is a vlogger, or a video blogger. She is one of millions of YouTube creators who simply film their lives and their thoughts and give viewers a glimpse into their world for about 10 minutes at a time. With YouTube as her platform, she pushes out her content on a vehicle that reaches more 18- to 49-year-olds than any cable network in the United States, according to statistics from YouTube.

The world opened by vlogging has created a new dynamic in media in which celebrities are made every day for being one thing: relatable. 

A shift in reality

A viewer's urge to watch vlogs and continue doing so is contingent on the vlogger being relatable, Karen Riggs, a professor of media and coordinator of the Scripps College of Communication social media certificate, said.

“We watch people that are looking you in the eye and telling you stuff like they would tell a friend,” Riggs said. “They’re not talking down to you.”

Viewing a stranger’s otherwise private life through a camera lens is not a new concept.

For starters, there’s reality television, which was one of the first times viewers were brought into the lives of those on screen.

And now, there’s YouTube.

“These are people that give us the impression that they’re fun, they’re exciting, they’re real,” Riggs said.

YouTube launched in May 2005, just 11 years ago. Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, who previously worked for PayPal, created the video-sharing website.

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The site was sold to Google in 2006 for $1.6 billion and is now worth about $70 billion if valued on its own, according to a 2015 analysis by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Interacting on YouTube, however, can mean a few different things. People can choose to interact with content creators via posting comments, messaging and subscribing, which is how a user would be notified when a certain user or channel uploads a new video. Or someone can watch a video, do nothing and leave — no commitment. 

Some users are also creating “shows" with episodes every day, such as Charles Trippy. He runs the channel CTFxC and has been on YouTube for more than seven years. He holds the Guinness World Record for most consecutive days vlogging: 2,200 as of May 2015, but he’s still going.

As far as content goes, Riggs added that YouTube stars are “willing to let us be voyeurs.”

“There is an intimacy there,” Riggs said. “It’s a one-to-oneness that television and many other media outlets lack.”

Getting started

Mia Brabham’s first YouTube video was of her dancing with her friend to the song “Rockstar” by Prima J — the song made popular by the Bratz movie. She was in middle school, and YouTube was completely new to her.

It launched an entire passion for video and creation, and now, at James Madison University, she’s a senior studying media arts and design. 

In her time on YouTube as Mia B., she has noticed a shift. YouTube is starting to move away from “content creation” to “content consumption” — coinciding with YouTube becoming more like a business than its roots as a video-sharing community. If she were to start out creating videos now, she said it would have been a lot harder than at the time she rst started. 

“Nothing’s promised because (YouTube is) so big now, because there’s such a divide, it’s hard to get from consumer to creator but I think it really does fall back on you really can’t be doing it because you want a fanbase,” Brabham said.

Finkenthal has been on YouTube since 2008, and she said she has met a lot of people that don’t know how to get started on the platform. 

Thus, she’s looking to pay it forward. Finkenthal and Amon, along with Julia McGreevy, a sophomore studying integrated media arts and studies, have started their own club, VLouG at Ohio University.

The club’s aim is simple: Create a space where people can come together, learn and create content for YouTube. 

During YouTube’s early years, quality might not have been at the top of the priority list for a creator. But now, it’s expected. 

“People really have to have the knack for entertainment, the knack for sincerity,” Riggs said. “They know that they have relatively little time to entertain us. … People have to see it as a profession and they have to make a commitment.”

Finkenthal, Amon and McGreevy all agreed that a lot goes into creating a video of publishable quality, such as brainstorming, setting up, filming, editing and uploading. But one key is not changing yourself for the camera. 

“The weirder I am, the better the video turns out,” McGreevy said. 

Amon said the beauty of YouTube is its accessibility — not only to view, but also to create. 

“TV is not for the average person,” McGreevy said. “It’s way harder to get on TV than (to) go on YouTube and start your own thing. YouTube is your own self-made thing.” 

From a creator to a celebrity

Roman Atwood is a prankster and vlogger who, on his main pranking channel RomanAtwood, has more than eight million subscribers and more than six million subscribers on his RomanAtwoodVlogs channel. He, along with other YouTubers Dennis Roady and Vitaly Zdorovetskiy, created a feature Jackass-esque film, Natural Born Pranksters, that opened in theaters April 1.

“YouTube started as just a fun place to host videos we were already making off YouTube. … It took years before I got any views,” Atwood said in a previous Post report.

And they’re not the anomaly. YouTubers are branching out to other mediums — books, brand deals, sponsored content, movies and TV shows. Tyler Oakley, a vlogger who has more than eight million subscribers and more than 500 million views between his more than 400 videos, has written a book Binge, gone on several global tours and created Snervous, a documentary about his life and tour. 

“YouTubers come across as kind of our friends,” Riggs said. “They become sort of opinion leaders so that when YouTubers recommend products, ... then we make a decision (to say), ‘OK, I respect this opinion leader. I’m going to go out and buy this lipstick, and, you know, who would do that for a reality star? Who wants Snooki’s lipstick?’ ” 

Though YouTube is filled with users who only may upload occasionally, regular uploaders can use the platform as their career, with opportunities to earn millions. 

In addition to placing an advertisement before or after a video, advertisers can take stake by offering sponsorships. Products could be given for free, or creators and advertisers can start brand deals. For instance, vlogger Grace Helbig advertises free coupon codes for an online audio book application, Audible, and beauty guru/vlogger Ingrid Nilsen is a Covergirl ambassador.

Brabham said she has experience in Google AdSense and previously was being represented by Collective Digital Studio, which made suggestions for her content and is now called Studio71. She said she could earn between $30 and $100 per video. 

Finkenthal said her videos helped her get an internship at SpoonDrawer Media Group. 

“When I went in to interview, they were like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s the YouTube girl,’ and I got the internship right away,” Finkenthal said. 

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With all of the work that’s put into creating a video, Riggs said it’s not just luck that can make that video go viral or make that person a YouTube celebrity. 

“(When we look at a YouTuber) we have a person who is kind of an ‘accessible celebrity’ — a person that we can identify with and perhaps could be,” Riggs said. “We could be Jenna Marbles. We could be Shane Dawson. … They have everyday lives that they’re making interesting by presenting them to us, and part of their genius is to frame a narrative of their everyday lives in a way that seems authentic.” 


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