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Magazines > Information Today > January/February 2020

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Information Today
Vol. 37 No. 1 — Jan/Feb 2020
Infotainment Today: What Librarians Need to Know About YouTubers
by Anthony Aycock

I see infotainment as the reconciliation of two seemingly opposite goals: education and amusement.
Launched on Feb. 14, 2005, YouTube isn’t one of the oldest sites around. But it is one of the most beloved. YouTube is the second most visited website in the world (behind Google). More than 1 billion people use it, including my 9-year-old niece and my 71-year-old mother. Almost 5 billion videos are watched every day ( Users upload more than 500 hours of video each minute, which equals 720,000 hours per day. Know how long it would take to watch each day’s new content? Eighty-two years ( So when my son says he wants to “catch up on some YouTube,” he ain’t just whistling Dixie.

Speaking of my son, I’ve noticed a difference in how he and I use the site. For me, YouTube is primarily two things: a research tool and an instrument of nostalgia. Other people my age seem to have similar parameters. My son’s mother, for instance, has looked up how to remove a car alternator and how to make chain maille jewelry. I’ve seen videos on drawing, using WordPress, and solving a Rubik’s Cube. As for nostalgia, there was a lost weekend in 2012 when I watched every episode of the 1960s Batman show.

My son goes to YouTube for DIY reasons as well. Just the other day, he found a video on removing store security tags from clothing (this was not a precursor to criminality; he bought some pants and didn’t notice until he got home that they still bore the tag). But the main thing he watches is original programming. I don’t mean scripted shows such as Cobra Kai or Step Up: High Water. I mean content from folks such as Shane Dawson, Matthew Santoro, Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg (aka PewDiePie), Mark Fischbach (aka Markiplier), and Colleen Ballinger (aka Miranda Sings).

The catchall term for these performers is YouTubers, and their methods run the gamut. Some are musicians. Some are parodists. Some are vloggers. Some are sketch artists, a la Monty Python. Some are pranksters, a la the Jackass crew. Some are Let’s Players, meaning they offer commentary while playing video games. And some—my favorites—are the group most relevant to librarians: infotainers.


PC Magazine defines “infotainer” as “a somewhat disparaging term for a journalist who delivers information in a stimulating fashion in order to keep the audience interested” ( Disparaging? Not in the YouTube era, when billions of viewers—and dollars—are at stake.

I see infotainment as the reconciliation of two seemingly opposite goals: education and amusement. It is a venerable genre with roots in kids’ programs: Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Captain Kangaroo, and The Inside Story, featuring Slim Goodbody, whose skits stressed good nutrition while he wore a Visible Human Project-type unitard. YouTubers have taken the infotainment formula and reworked it for teens, young adults, and quite a few older adults.

Take Matthew Patrick, aka MatPat. In 2011, after years of trying, and failing, to make it as an actor, he created TheGame Theorists, a YouTube channel on which he analyzes and critiques video games and the gaming industry. Three years later, he created a spinoff, TheFilm Theorists. As of August 2019, those channels, plus a Premium series, MatPat’s GAME LAB, had nearly 22 million subscribers and more than 3.6 billion views.

Many of the channels’ episodes are just accumulations of facts, expertly animated and narrated with Patrick’s signature faux melodrama (you can recognize him by his catchphrase: “But hey, that’s just a theory, a film [or game] theory!”). Some, however, amount to visual research papers. In one, Patrick lays out a defense for Scar, not Simba, as the true king of Pride Rock. After summarizing The Lion King—to benefit, I suppose, the 10 people on Earth who haven’t seen it—he explains that lion societies, unlike human monarchies, would not recognize Simba’s succession to the throne and reject Scar as a pretender. In reality, Scar, being genetically superior to Mufasa—as evidenced by his darker mane and hairier body—would dominate the pride and banish the male cubs, who would not return like Simba did, but would form “coalitions” with other rogue lions to take over other prides. This wouldn’t make Scar safe, however. Due to the food shortage in his reign, the lionesses would likely have attacked and killed him. Patrick cites his sources—, Science magazine, and Panthera, a big cat conservation group—like any good researcher.


Less scholarly is the duo of Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, whose Good Mythical Morning is equal parts Mythbusters and The Red Skelton Show. Best friends since first grade, the pair quit their engineering jobs to pursue YouTube careers. Some of their first videos were amateur-looking commercials that were actually sponsored by local companies as part of unconventional marketing campaigns. The two did all of the filming and editing in a borrowed basement studio in their North Carolina hometown.

Ten years later, Rhett and Link live in Los Angeles and employ a dozen or so aides to spread their work among three channels with some 20 million subscribers. Amid the game shows, skits, and song parodies, there is scientific content. In one video, they inspect several items—a pair of jeans, a quarter, a rose, a chicken leg, and congealed blood—that have been soaking in bleach for a week, discussing the bleach’s effect on each item. In other videos, the pair teaches geography and culture by sampling international foods and guessing which country the food is from (they do this in typical YouTube fashion: by throwing darts at a map).

In recent years, this type of infotainment has gone mainstream, with truTV’s Adam Ruins Everything. Based on a CollegeHumor web series, the show stars Adam Conover as an amped-up know-it-all who bursts into everyday settings—a charity drive, a voting booth, a restaurant—to debunk misconceptions. Breaking the fourth wall, he uses a mixture of sketch comedy, animation, and interviews with real experts to prove his thesis. Like MatPat, he cites his sources, which pop up on the screen. The characters Conover confronts are annoyed with him at first, but by the end, he has won them over with the power of his argument. (I may or may not have used episodes of this show to introduce research papers to my English 101 students.)  


Technically, YouTubers are people who are known for their original YouTube work, not people from other industries who happen to have a YouTube channel. Yet just about everybody uses the platform now, and there are some old media that have found new relevance through the world of infotainment.

WIRED is one such media outlet. Founded in 1993 as “the Rolling Stone of technology,” it has a series called Technique Critique, in which professionals from different fields discuss the accuracy of Hollywood movies. For instance, a surgical resident cuts into hospital scenes. A forensics expert shines a light on crime scene investigations. A lawyer cross-examines courtroom scenes. (I wrote a librarian-looking-at-movie-libraries version of this for the July/August 2019 issue of Information Today.)

My favorite Technique Critique performer is Erik Singer, a Hollywood dialect coach. In his videos, Singer plays clips from movies and critiques the actors’ success with different accents. Along the way, he discusses linguistics concepts such as idiolect (the speech habits peculiar to a particular person) and defines terms such as received pronunciation, pin/pen merger, diphthongs, and retroflex consonants as he talks through the peculiarities of accents. Singer believes they are vital parts of character development that must be “fully integrated” into a performance. (He also has a video on fictional languages such as Klingon and Dothraki, for the fun of it.)

One example comes from the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix. Singer plays a clip of the real Johnny Cash singing “Folsom Prison Blues,” followed by Phoenix as Cash singing the same song. He points out that Cash, in the words “when” and “whistle,” makes the “wh” sound voiceless: no more than a puff of air. Phoenix, by contrast, voices the consonants, making the words “wen” and “wistle.” Does this matter? Yes, according to Singer, for it “helps set the time and place”: 1955 in Memphis, Tenn.

Another WIRED series features celebrities answering Twitter questions about particular subjects. For instance, Nick Offerman nails woodworking questions. Gordon Ramsay spices up his cooking responses. Penn Jillette makes ignorance of magic disappear. Ken Jeong gives a dose of medical advice. These celebrities are experts in these areas, so the informational content is top-notch. As for entertainment value, who wouldn’t want to watch Offerman’s deadpan, Jeong’s faux gangsterism, and Ramsay’s oven-hot outrage directed at the sometimes mindless musings of the Twittersphere?


YouTube-based infotainment is a growth area for librarians. There may be a societal decline in reading, but there isn’t in the need for information—or entertainment. Combining the two works because it is what we learned as kids, as with Sesame Street and the other shows. Among teenagers, YouTubers are more popular than movie or TV stars (

Librarians can’t know every YouTuber, but we should know the genres. Mediakix has a great list of the most popular ones ( We should also know the issues surrounding YouTube, such as the following:

  • Copyright infringement, which forces videos off the platform
  • Demonetization, the process of denying YouTubers paid advertisements in their videos (more discussion of this is at
  • The debacle of Defy Media, a group that promised to help YouTubers but allegedly stole millions in ad revenue
Plus, infotainment is fun. I never thought I’d say that, being a middle-aged serious person who saw YouTube as the province of slackers with nothing to do but goof around with a camera. But the same was once said about pleasure reading, minus the camera. YouTubers have crossed over into podcasts, voice acting, and live versions of their channels. I’ve been to a few of these and screamed as though at a rock concert. Like it or not, YouTubers are here to stay. In the words of Rhett and Link: Let’s talk about that.

Anthony Aycock is the author of The Accidental Law Librarian (Information Today, Inc., 2013). He is the director of the North Carolina Legislative Library and an assistant editor for Convention Scene ( He has a B.A. in English, an M.F.A. in creative writing, an M.L.I.S., and an M.A. in criminal justice. Send your comments about this article to or tweet us (@ITINewsBreaks).