YouTube Vies to Become the Anti-Snooki

The video service is offering a new twist on the old MTV by aiming a little higher than the lowest common denominator. But is success a “Shore” thing?

Snooki's latest escapade – a profanity-laden video lampooning talk show host Joy Behar, a frequent critic – is becoming an Internet hit, apparently attracting some of the same 8.45 million sets of eyes exposed to the third season premiere of "Jersey Shore."

The perennially viral Snooki is no stranger to YouTube, one of the platforms that helped make her TV's biggest non-celebrity celebrity at a time when new lows in vapidity (and heights in hair) can lead to a  dubious form of fame.

But there are signs that YouTube, launched five years ago as a video-upload free-for-all, is trying to carve out a niche in the media landscape as the anti-Snooki – a counterpoint to the increasingly cynical enterprise MTV has become.

As we've previously noted, YouTube has morphed into a go-to spot for music videos, dethroning MTV – or at least taking advantage of the network’s abdication of the music television format that made it a pop culture powerhouse three decades ago.

YouTube apparently is trying to cull through its growing mass of video uploads with an eye toward occasionally treating young folks as intelligent humans. YouTube’s “On the Rise” page lets users vote on which relative unknowns get their videos promoted on the site’s homepage. The latest candidates include an autobiographical, semi-animated short by a young man who became a competitive skier after losing a leg to cancer, a goofy "Harry Potter"-inspired music video and a performance by an 18-year-old singer-songwriter whose talent belies her age.

Meanwhile, YouTube this week announced the selection of its latest symphony orchestra, featuring musicians (including a trumpeter who doubles on the vuvuzela) picked from online auditions submitted from around the world. The 101 members from more than 30 countries range from 14 to 49 – not all that far removed from MTV’s key demographic group of 12 to 34.

We’re getting a kick out of the site’s new talk show called, “The Partners Project,” in which a young host interviews “YouTube stars” like MysteryGuitarMan, who produces quirky music videos, and the man behind the Annoying Orange, a talking fruit. The informal, conversational style of the show, complete with quick cuts and pulsing music reminds us a lot of old-school MTV, which marks its 30th anniversary this year.

“People are creating careers on YouTube,” the show’s host, Shira Lazar recently told The New York Times. “This community needs someone telling their stories.”

Orchestras and chatty oranges, of course, aren’t everybody’s idea of a fun time, and there's tons of trash to be found among the 35 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. But at least the site’s operators are trying to curate some of the better material and create a sense of youthful community that isn’t built around self-destruction as a primary attention-getting tool.

YouTube seems happy to avoid the race to degrade, which the latest "Jersey Shore" handily won with a show-capping catfight where fists flew nearly as quickly as the curses. Before subjecting yourself to the next episode of “Jersey Shore,” check out two very different videos below from Snooki and from the YouTube Symphony Orchestra – one guess as to which is NSFW:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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