County Government Turns to YouTube to Get the Word Out


(Saturday, February 2, 2008 7:47 AM EST)

Arlington County Board members may not have Facebook profiles, and you won't find a MySpace page for Arlington's police department, but county agencies are turning to one Web site as an information outlet - YouTube.

In an effort the reach new audiences, Arlington's cable network, Arlington Virginia Network (AVN), started posting some of its videos on YouTube about a year ago.

Clips promoting the county's environmental initiatives, a special on the Shirlington Library and videos featuring adoptable pets at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington are just a sampling of the videos posted.

“It's very clear that Web content is where video is shifting in society,” said county spokesman Diana Sun. “YouTube is free, and it's a universal tool now. In the sense that Google has become a verb, YouTube is just a common tool, like a screwdriver. For us to leverage it and reach people in a different way is wonderful.”

“If you really want to have a national audience, YouTube is great for that,” said AVN executive producer Rob Farr. “We want to drive people to [the county] Web site.”

The county's YouTube supporters also see the site as a way to let residents in on more “behind the scenes” action.

One such video showed bomb-detection dogs responding to a telephoned bomb threat at the county government center.

“We'd had a bomb threat, and it was so impressive to me the way people handled that,” Sun said. “Within moments, the Arlington police, the FBI, the Pentagon police and the police's bomb department were there, and they came with dogs. People normally wouldn't see that.”

The Arlington County Police Department has also joined the YouTube bandwagon, and recently started posting surveillance videos.

“YouTube is very popular and available worldwide, so posting videos of wanted suspects increases the potential audience,” said police spokesman John Lisle. “We want as many people as possible to see the videos, and, hopefully, someone will recognize one of the suspects.”

Although no cases have been solved yet using YouTube, the department is hopeful that over time, as it uses the tool more frequently, there will be results, Lisle said.

There are a couple of drawbacks to YouTube - the limited time allowed for each video (videos cannot be longer than 10 minutes), and possible confusion over which videos are posted by the county and which are posted by residents - but county officials are positive about the site and plan on using it more in the future.

“Our content isn't ever going to get millions of hits like the ‘Dancing Baby' video, but I think we've shown that we can be inventive and that [our videos] can be popular,” Sun said.

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