Each week his subscribers waited for a new upload for his channel. Jason Telfer, 40, fiddled with his webcam until a red dot flickered on screen. He recorded his videos in a small, makeshift office in the backroom of his house. His ring light stood in front of him, which illuminated the room and the American flag strung behind him.

Telfer, a full-time student and part-time Target employee, actively argued politics online. Months prior to starting his channel, he was in a Twitter debate with Keala Carr, a YouTube commentator known as Rez Please. She featured Telfer on her channel after developing an online friendship.

On Aug. 17, Telfer began streaming his opinions on the state of the nation, politics and policies, and bizarre news on his channel, AircraftSparky.

“A lot of my sources are from people on Twitter and people on YouTube because I don’t watch TV or news radio,” said Keiran Halcyon, vocal subscriber of Telfer. “I listen to people’s podcasts like Sparky’s or a couple others.  I even started putting news stories on my phone because of it.”

Initial Fear of Backlash

In the 32 videos uploaded to his channel, Telfer had covered multiple, controversial news topics, such as: institutionalized racism, transgender people in the military and immigration policies. He said he feared backlash from users that disagreed with his stances.

“Doing political commentary can be a little stressful because if you put your face out there, then it’s out there,” said Telfer. “There’s vulnerability attached to showing my face on camera, and if I say something unpopular, there could be physical backlash, considering today’s political climate.”

Through an intense editing process that he was unfamiliar with, Telfer cautiously censored his commentary to prevent malicious comments and/or potential threats from viewers with opposing viewpoints. Although he had a small fan base of 82 subscribers, he still diluted his on-camera opinions to avoid “inciting a reaction [he] doesn’t want to be a part of.”

The Process of Creating Content

Telfer prepared for each show through researching discussion points based on what happened in the news or whom he featured that night. In the hours leading up to his show, he checked the audio levels, the camera angling and the lighting.

“It’s a matter of constantly figuring out the learning curve of these programs on-the-fly every week,” said Telfer. “I spend a lot of my time on forums asking questions or playing with it until I figure it out myself.”

Telfer said he utilized Twitter and Discord, an online voice and text chat service, to interact with his audience and network within his fan base to attract more subscribers. On average, he spends a few hours after each video talking with his fans on his Discord server about what content he should cover next or their opinions on his videos.

“I think it’s better as a content creator to interact with the audience, so they can get involved in the channel,” said Telfer. “I think it helps the audience get more into my frame of mind, especially when you’re espousing your opinion online.”

Other YouTube political commentators, such as Carr who has a little over 1,500 subscribers, focused on viewership as a means of starting a dialogue over issues pertaining to the polarized politics of the nation.

“My political channel is simply to get the conversation going, and I have to reach a certain amount of [followers] to do that,” said Carr. “I don’t care if I ever make a dime from it, but I would say I need at least 10,000 [followers] to be able to reach people.”

Carr said generating revenue as a small community was difficult due to lack of followers and viewership in YouTube’s monetizing algorithms; however, earlier this year, YouTube underwent an algorithm change, which popular YouTubers coined as the “adpocalypse.” According to The Verge news, the “adpocalypse,” demonetized videos due to multiple, major advertising brands pulling their advertisements from YouTube. The new algorithm limited certain “sensitive” content, such as political discourse, and since the update, YouTube officials have worked toward a more consistent algorithm for monetizing videos.

“I’m a small channel, so it’s not like I could really make money off of it anyway, but it affects my favorite YouTubers and the amount of content they put out each day,” said Carr.

YouTube and Money

Originally Telfer aspired to make a living from his YouTube channel via advertisements, however, “it’s damn hard,” he said. His channel lacks the necessary subscribers and views to gain revenue from his videos, but he has yet to establish a timeframe for his channel growth.

YouTube has certain algorithms in place that determine the advertising revenue that a content creator will receive based on certain factors in their channels. These factors include the quality of the video, the engagement of the audience and the price paid for the advertisement. A creator needs at least 10,000 public channel views before YouTube allows them to monetize their videos.

YouTube’s video monetization features cost-per-thousand impressions, or CPM, for advertisers and revenue-per-thousand, or RPM, for creators. CPM refers to the amount an advertiser pays for an advertisement to play on a certain video 1,000 times, while the RPM refers to the average amount earned through monetized views—an impression/monetized view equates to a viewer watching or clicking on an advertisement—which is awarded to the creator.

“There’s no way [to make a living] unless I had a million or more subscribers. I couldn’t do it,” said Telfer. “Being a content creator and running a channel by myself can be overwhelming, but if your drive is to make money off of YouTube, you’ll drive yourself insane.”

Although Telfer does not meet YouTube’s set guidelines for monetizing videos, he used programs like Streamlabs and Patreon, which are services where supporters can donate money to content creators. Since beginning his channel, he had only received 10 dollars in total, but he said these services were another avenue for making money through his videos.

Telfer will continue building a following for his new channel, and although he is not actively trying to make a living from his channel, he is working toward creating a reputation as a new political commentator on YouTube.

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