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The End of 20th Century Journalism
OhmyNews CEO addresses the 2004 World Association of Newspapers
OhmyNews (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2004-06-01 12:26 (KST)   
©2004 Gwan W.S.
OhmyNews Founder and CEO Oh Yeon Ho addressed the 2004 World Association of Newspapers Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 31. About 300 delegates from around the globe were on-hand to hear how OhmyNews is transforming the face of journalism with its citizen reporter model. The following is the text of his speech.

Good afternoon.

We opened OhmyNews at two twenty-two p.m. on the 22nd of February, 2000.
Why so many 2's?

We chose that moment to say goodbye to 20th century journalism and to create a new 21st century journalism.

20th century journalism is one-way. Professional reporters write, and readers read.

The traditional newspaper inherently has two limits: time and space. That's why only professional journalists can write articles for the papers.

But Internet media can overcome these two barriers. In some ways, the Internet also has time and space limits, but in others the Internet has no time and space limits. That's why a citizen reporter can participate in the news reporting.

By means of the Internet, OhmyNews created a two-way journalism. The readers are no longer passive. They can be reporters anytime they want.

The main concept of OhmyNews is "Every citizen is a reporter." Journalists aren't some exotic species, they're everyone who has news stories and shares them with others.

With the main concept, born in the spring of the new millennium, OhmyNews changed how news is produced, distributed and consumed.

1. New concepts: Every citizen is a reporter

Last year, a Japanese journalist visited our office and asked me, "What is the biggest exclusive story OhmyNews has ever broken?"

I replied without hesitation "the main concept itself ... declaring 'every citizen is a reporter' is itself the biggest exclusive story we have ever done."

It made OhmyNews different and successful and without that our future will not be bright.

We started OhmyNews with 727 citizen reporters, now we have about 33,000.

Our citizen reporters come from all walks of life. From elementary school students to professors. So there is a wide range in the quality and style of their articles. This is the unique merit of OhmyNews.

Even policemen and military service men are our citizen reporters.

One day I was invited to a military HQ, and there a captain said to me "hello" and "Sir, I am an OhmyNews news guerrilla.징짹

I was surprised and when I returned to my office I checked if he really was a member. The captain had already written five stories for OhmyNews.

Mr. Lee Bong Ryul, a 34-year-old salary man, has written about 400 articles in 4 years. 1n 2002, the average number of hits for his articles was over 10,000.

Mr. Ko Tae Jin, a 39-year-old small business owner in a small town in Kyungsang province, has written columns once or twice a week, and it is so popular that the average number of hits is over 20,000.

Both Mr. Lee and Mr. Ko are here with us today in the audience.

I think Mr. Lee and Mr. Ko are the very people we can call journalists. Their performances are equal with professional journalists.

Everyone is free to register and contribute to OhmyNews. There are no restrictions on membership, but they must agree to our code of ethics. For example they must promise to write only the facts and not slander others.

Citizen reporters submit between 150 and 200 posts a day, over 70 percent of the news content for OhmyNews.

We do pay our citizen reporters, but the fee is small. It is not in the same league as mainstream media. If the article goes up to Top News, we pay 20,000 won, about 17 dollars.

Many foreign correspondents who visited OhmyNews have said to me, "It is difficult to understand why citizen reporters enjoy writing articles for such small money."

I answered, " They are writing articles to change the world, not to earn money."

We give them something that money cannot. We make OhmyNews a public square and a playground for the citizen reporter and readers. The traditional paper says "I produce, you read" but we say "we produce and we read and we change the world together."

So our main concept "every citizen is a reporter" is not only in the slogan. It is real. It is to change the world. That's the power of OhmyNews.

2. New Contents with new styles: Break down the set formula for news articles

The power of OhmyNews also comes from our staff reporters. We started with only four staff reporters, and now we have 35. They edit articles posted by citizen reporters and write in-depth stories.

We respect citizen participation. However, we also balance the need for participation by citizen reporters very carefully with their need for professional presentation out of editorial control.

From the start, OhmyNews staff reporters have broken big exclusive stories almost every month. In 2002, we first reported the Hyundai Group - North Korea money scandal. Every mainstream newspaper and broadcaster cited OhmyNews.

And right after the 2002 presidential election, staff reporters got an exclusive interview with the new president. This surprised not only the Korean media but also the whole nation.

Our staff reporters interviewed president-elect Roh Moo Hyun. That was the first interview Mr. Roh gave to the domestic media after he was elected.

The main strategy of our staff reporters is "selection and concentration". Because we have only 35 staff reporters, compared to the mainstream media that's a very small number, we are focusing on what we can do well -- political and social issues.

If we decide to focus on an issue that day, our staff reporters are all in.

And with "selection and concentration," there is another strategy. We use all the merits of Internet media at their best, reporting speedily and vividly with simultaneous input from readers.

In March, there was a huge candlelight demonstration in the center of Seoul. Two hundred thousand people were gathered and demanded that President Roh not be impeached.

Twenty staff reporters and several citizen reporters were all there to cover the demonstration vividly with the combination text-photo-video and we published a special edition of the weekly paper.

We broadcast the event live on OhmyTV and updated text articles every 30 minutes during the six-hour demonstration.

About four hundred thousand OhmyNews readers participated in the demonstration online, and over 85,000 comments on the one issue were recorded on our site.

With this kind of coverage, OhmyNews is challenging and changing the traditional media formula of how to write, how to edit.

3. New world: The shift in media power

Each political scholar has his own definition of power. I would say power comes from established standards. Those who have power set the standards, and it is through those standards that they are able to maintain their power.

Yes, in the media market there has been a media power which says "this is standard, follow me". The standards of 20th century journalism have been created and controlled by professional newspaper journalists.

But these standards are challenged by the Internet: challenged by new journalists of the new space, they are called netizens or citizen reporters.

They challenged the traditional media logic of who is a reporter, what is news, what is the best news style, and what is newsworthy.

Because the old standards were challenged, the media power of traditional newspapers has declined. In Korea, we have seen a power shift in the media market, which was originally dominated by conservative newspapers.

Before we started OhmyNews, the Korean media was 80 percent conservative and 20 percent progressive. So I felt that without changing the media market 80-20 imbalance, there would be no democracy in Korea.

In that situation, even though there is an important story produced by the progressive media, if the conservative mainstream media ignores it, it cannot become a social agenda.

I wanted to equalize it to 50-50. That's why I created OhmyNews with the editorial philosophy of "Open progressivism."

I am not sure how much things have changed, but I am sure they have.

Fortunately, from the beginning we encountered big political issues: the 2000 General Elections, the 2002 Presidential Elections, President Roh's impeachment and the 2004 General Elections.

Every time, when we dealt with a big political issue, our influence grew. We knew how Korean society was changing, what the young generation wanted to change and we aired their views.

Last year, OhmyNews was ranked the 6th most influential news organization among all kinds of Korean media as surveyed by the weekly Sisa Journal.

And in April this year, OhmyNews was ranked No. 16, surpassing famous traditional newspapers and national broadcasters including KBS in the number of web site visitors surveyed by rankey.com.

Thanks to the increasing number of visitors and influence, from last year, we broke even.

4. Why in Korea? The people prepared

Two years ago, a team of Japanese journalists visited our office and learned about OhmyNews. After they returned to Japan, they started an Internet newspaper like OhmyNews, but so far it is not successful.

Several journalists from other countries informed me that they are preparing OhmyNews style Internet newspapers, but I have not yet heard any success stories.

So, your question might be "Why in Korea?"

We consider OhmyNews a special product of Korea.

Our nation, our society, and our readers had been prepared to welcome and boost OhmyNews. There are some reasons why the citizen reporter model, OhmyNews style Internet newspaper appeared first in Korea and has been successful so far.

First, Korean readers have been disappointed by the mainstream conservative media and yearned for alternative media.

Second, Korea's Internet infrastructure is superior to most other countries. We enjoy over 75 percent broadband penetration. It makes multimedia, always-on service and interactive news service possible.

Third, South Korea is small enough so that it is possible for staff reporters to reach the news scene in a few hours to check whether a citizen reporter's article is correct or not.

Fourth, Korea is a uni-polar society. The entire country can be engulfed by a couple of issues. It makes OhmyNews' guerrilla strategy (selection and concentration) effective.

But the most important reason is that Korean citizens were ready to participate. Korea has a young, active and reform-minded generation, those in their 20s and 30s.

They are eager to reform Korean society. They were the most influential voters in the results of the 2002 presidential election and the 2004 general election.

That generation is exactly the same as the core readers of OhmyNews. Almost 80 percent of OhmyNews citizen reporters and readers are in their 20s and 30s.

I would say that technology itself cannot change society, only prepared people can change society. I would say: if you want to import OhmyNews to your country please check first whether the people are prepared or not.

5. What's next: Every citizen is a broadcasting reporter

OhmyNews was born with the motto "Every Citizen's a Reporter," and now we will create an environment where "every citizen is a broadcasting reporter." OhmyNews' web broadcasting unit, OhmyTV, started "Citizen Anchor News" in February.

©2004 Gwan W.S.
And we're going global with OhmyNews International

OhmyNews International began operating on the occasion of our fourth anniversary, and this marks the beginning of the globalization of a native Korean product.

OhmyNews International will gradually expand to allow the citizens of the world to participate by writing their own articles in English.

Until now, "Every Citizen's a Reporter" has been applied only to speakers of Korean. Now it will grow to include people everywhere.

It's time to conclude my speech.

There are always changes. Sometimes the changes seem to be rapid, and sometimes they seem slow.

But I am sure that the citizen-participatory journalism will expand worldwide and it will be one of the core characteristics of 21st century journalism.

Thank you.

Oh Yeon Ho
CEO and Founder of OhmyNews
©2004 OhmyNews
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