Since the last Korean presidential election, word of OhmyNews has been circulating both on the Internet and in offline space. In fact, the OhmyNews desk has been inundated with international queries.|
The result? Here is a glimpse of the international media attention.
OhmyNews: Voices From the Street-Business Week
Korea's star of "citizen journalism" aims to go global
MAY 4, 2006
By Moon Ihlwan and Kenji Hall
Oh Yeon Ho knows the power of independent media. His Seoul-based Web site, OhmyNews, lets regular folks write about whatever they want. In 2002 that included big doses of news about presidential candidate Roh Moo Hyun -- at a time when Korea's leading papers brushed aside the dark horse as a dangerous leftist. On Election Day, as the citizen journalists of OhmyNews reported that Roh appeared to be trailing, young readers dispatched a flurry of text messages urging friends to go to the polls, helping Roh squeak to victory. ``Citizen reporters beat traditional media,'' recalls Oh.
Little wonder that OhmyNews has become one of Korea's most influential media outlets -- and has inspired dozens of imitators around the globe. The site boasts 95 full-time staffers and nearly 42,000 citizen contributors, who together produce about 160 articles a day.
Now Oh is taking his citizen journalism effort overseas. In August, OhmyNews is due to start a Japanese-language version, run in cooperation with Softbank Corp. And since last July, OhmyNews has been churning out news in English, produced by 850 citizen reporters from 85 countries plus eight professional editors.
Repeating the splash OhmyNews achieved in Korea won't be easy. Young Koreans have a deep distrust of newspapers -- which tend to represent the conservative establishment -- whereas Japanese media are much more diverse. And the explosion of blogging worldwide will probably make a dedicated citizen news site less attractive. ``When OhmyNews got started, few people had blogs,'' notes Tsuruaki Yukawa, member of the editorial board at Japan's Jiji Press.
Still, Oh is confident his service will offer something unique. Blogs, he says, don't have the credibility of OhmyNews, where professionals edit and fact-check stories from nonstaffers to filter out inaccuracies and potentially libelous claims. And it presents perspectives that conventional news outlets ignore, covering, for instance, the discontent in Nepal several months before Western newspapers did. ``Citizen reporters excel when they write on subjects they know well,'' says Hong Eun Taek, editor-in-chief of the English-language service.
'Asian participatory anything is just way ahead, whether it's Japan or Korea'
March 13, 2006--While citizen journalism sites in the United States still struggle, a profitable South Korean site with $6 million in annual revenues just scored an $11-million investment from Softbank late last month. Now OhmyNews CEO Oh Yeon Ho plans to use a good chunk of it to launch a Japanese news site.
The six-year-old venture boasts a staggering 41,000 citizen contributors, which explains why the site has to generate only 30 percent of its content. Susan DeFife, the CEO of Backfence, a Falls Church, Virginia-based citizen journalism startup, says the site is "without a doubt, the success story in this space."
Widely credited with helping to mobilize South Koreans behind the election of President Roh Moo-hyun, OhmyNews makes 60 to 70 percent of its money from ads, 20 percent from syndicating content, and 5 to 10 percent from reader donations, according to Communications Director Jean K. Min.
Embracing the concept, tech writer Dan Gillmor quit his job as a columnist at California’s San Jose Mercury News in 2005 to start Bayosphere, a citizen site "of, by, and for the [San Francisco] Bay Area." But it never took off and he ended up forming a citizen journalism think-tank just over a year later.
Getting participants turns out to be tough, even for media experts. Barry Parr, a media analyst for JupiterResearch, runs a citizen site that clocks 2,000 readers out of his home in Montara, California. Aiming to make "Coastsider" a local forum, he remains its sole regular contributor.
So what does OhmyNews do right? It pays contributors around $20 for newsworthy pieces, something smaller sites only wish they could do. It also offers professional editing and fact-checking to contributors?and an audience of up to 700,000 visitors a day.
South Koreas tame media scene, short on muckraking and liberal politics, can't hurt OhmyNews, either. Then there's the South Korean factor. The country has the highest broadband penetration in the world. And East Asians tend to be very connected anyway. "Asian participatory anything is just way ahead, whether it's Japan or Korea," contends Anthony Lappe, executive editor of the leftist Guerrilla News Network's site.
Mr. Parr says the best American examples of local participatory media, such as Montclair, New Jersey-based Baristanet and Watertown, Massachusetts-based H2otown, were started by locals, not venture investors. He says the national and regional orientation of American media leaves room for citizen journos to "go after the gaps in coverage."
Hyper-local coverage can also be where the money is, according to Josh Grotstein of SAS Investments, an investor in Backfence, which works the Washington, D.C., market for now. Developing a close relationship with the local ad market is crucial to winning it over, he says. "Look at things like Craigslist, which is taking $40 to $50 million out of local ad dollars."
Mr. Min insists that OhmyNews has the right model: "OhmyNews from the very beginning has tried to be a national media [outlet]." It's just time to test it in another national market. Backfence is just as keen to test its formula in other local markets?and push out its software platform to them while doing so.
Ms. DeFife views Backfence as a nice, cheap business that's stirring a lot of interest. "You can create a highly profitable business because your costs are so low," she says. "Participation has been very enthusiastic." She's betting that people will value a good platform enough to contribute articles for free. Hmmm.
The People's News Source-TIME
By DONALD MACINTYRE/ SEOUL.
Sunday, May. 29, 2005
When Korean university student Chang Je Hyung did a brief stint at Samsung's office in Berlin last year, it made him angry. He had to help prepare a holiday trip to Germany for chairman Lee Kun Hee and his family. According to Chang, dozens of Samsung employees spent two months sweating over details of the private visit, even going to fancy restaurants to try out food the chairman might eat. Instead of tipping off the mainstream media, Chang sent a first-person account to online newspaper OhmyNews earlier this year. It created a sensation.
Chalk up another scoop for OhmyNews, the feisty phenomenon that is rewriting the rules for Korean media and, if founder Oh Yeon Ho has his way, may soon be doing the same outside Korea as well. Part blog, part professional news agency, OhmyNews gets up to 70% of its copy from some 38,000 "citizen reporters" like Chang?basically anyone with a story and a laptop to write it on. Editors vet the articles, rejecting nearly one-third. Launched in 2000, it has snowballed into a kind of raucous online mall for Korea's wired younger generation?a place to get news, absorb the buzz or just hang out. It is also giving young Koreans a political voice, upending the conservative traditional media models of their parents' generation.
Oh isn't ready to stop there. An English-language edition launched last year draws on more than 300 "world citizen reporters," and he wants to have 10,000 by next year. He's getting ready to launch OhmyNews in Japanese this year and is eyeing a Chinese version. The vision: turn OhmyNews into the world's water cooler, where anybody can talk about issues like global warming and North Korean nukes. Says Oh: "OhmyNewsshould be the epicenter of world public opinion."
Sounds ambitious, but the website is already extremely influential at home. After two schoolgirls were crushed to death in 2002 by a U.S. military vehicle, OhmyNews provided blanket coverage, triggering widespread demonstrations against the U.S. troop presence. As South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun rode the surge of anti-U.S. sentiment to victory in the 2002 election, OhmyNews portrayed him as the voice of the younger generation. Roh gave his first exclusive interview as President to the online upstart.
With Wikipedia offering a similar citizens' news service, OhmyNews won't be alone in international cyberspace. But Oh has already pulled off a trick that has proved elusive for many other online media outlets: turned a profit. OhmyNews says it made about $400,000 last year, more than two-thirds from advertising. Mainstream media will be watching closely?as will big conglomerates with anything to hide. ?By Donald Macintyre/ Seoul. With reporting by Yooseung Kim/Seoul
Korean bloggers making a difference-CNN
From CNN's Kristie Lu Stout
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Web site "Ohmynews" is giving mainstream media in South Korea a run for their money.
SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- It's a typical newsroom in downtown Seoul: reporters rush to meet deadlines and editors eye copy for mistakes.
But in this newsroom, some of the stories are being filed from a lingerie shop.
Just outside Seoul, lingerie shopkeeper Lee Eun Wha is preparing for a winter sale, but when there's free time, she hits the keyboard and begins working as a budding "citizen reporter" for Internet media site "Ohmynews."
The Web site is paving the way for a new kind of journalism in South Korea, where every reader can be a reporter and the establishment is being forced to take notice.
One of Lee's most recent stories, about hardships of small business owners, made a difference, she says.
"The public wasn't aware that small business owners were suffering so badly. But after my article went out, people were able to really see that small business owners were having difficulty just making ends meet," says Lee.
Lee has earned $5,000 from her work as a citizen reporter, but she says she is not in it for the money.
"By writing, I've been able to look more closely at my own surroundings and take a more proactive view of things."
"Ohmynews" draws half a million visitors a day -- most are young and male, but nearly all are tech-savvy Koreans out to challenge the elite.
South Korea leads the rest of the world in terms of broadband Internet access, with more than seven out of 10 households having access.
Political observers say "Ohmynews" influenced the election of outsider president Roh Moo-Hyun in February 2003 -- and it was no coincidence that Roh granted his first post-election interview to the site.
Oh Yeon Ho founded "Ohmynews" in February 2000. As CEO, he now manages a team of 50 reporters and editors, and heads a legion of 36,000 "citizen reporters."
"Our slogan is 'every citizen is a reporter.' We've created a new kind of journalism. We call it 21st-century journalism, two-way journalism. So the readers are no longer passive. They are very active and participate to say what they want to say," he told CNN.
About 150 stories are published on the site each day. If a contribution is deemed extra-newsworthy, the editors give it a higher billing and a token $20 fee.
Citizen reporters file stories on subjects ranging from musings on daily life, to political essays and a lot of criticism of South Korea's conservative mainstream media.
Media analyst Yoon Young-Chul, of Yonsei University in Seoul, says "Ohmynews" is also guilty of bias because a lot of its content is not balanced.
"They (citizen reporters) don't want to be objective. They don't pretend to be objective. What's more important for them is to make it clear their viewpoint and (to) advocate to a certain group of people."
Four libel cases have been filed against the site, but its CEO has no apologies. He says the freedom of speech found on "Ohmynews" is what makes it works so well.
"Our citizen reporters' reporting may seem very unprofessional. But that's the merit of 'Ohmynews' citizen reporters' writing. They don't follow the professional reporters' media logic. They do their own style," says Oh.
Despite the controversy, the site has attracted advertisers, including Korean company LG Electronics.
And Oh says the site is profitable, thanks to online advertising, sales of news content and a tipping service that allows readers to reward their favorite writers.
The sixth-ranked news site mixes news and opinion
By JUHA-PEKKA RAESTE
Jan. 8, 2005
Seoul -- Many a big newspaper company has originated from the need to fill a gaping hole in news communication.
Something similar may have happened in South Korea in February 2000, when Mr. Oh Yeon Ho founded the Internet news site OhmyNews.
Mr. Oh had been writing for small radical newspapers for more than 10 years and found out that his writing was not of much use. Either the pieces of news were unnoticed, or some bigger media outlet stole the news and received the honor.
He was also annoyed at how the leading newspapers owned by family conglomerates in South Korea were biased in reporting on their owners, political power holders or U.S. soldiers.
In Mr. Oh's estimate, conservatives controlled 80 percent of the South Korean media and liberals [progressives] 20 percent. Oh wanted the power balance to be 50-50.
The problem for Mr. Oh was how to bring about a more balanced media, and how to get the new ideas published more widely. The answer came in a technological breakthrough: South Korea had decided to move full throttle towards becoming the model nation for the Internet and broadband connections.
Thus the media was going to be the Internet. According to the new journalistic concept, the traditional view on reporters needed to be discarded. "Every citizen is a reporter. Reporters are not some exotic species, they are everyone who has news stories and shares them with others," Mr. Oh announced. On the Internet every citizen could be a reporter.
The OhmyNews editorial office is in downtown Seoul in one of the most expensive office areas, where many foreign embassies are also located. The office is dingy and cramped. In the morning some 20 editors are sitting shoulder to shoulder, editing stories sent by citizens for publishing.
"When the contributors send us stories, we often send them back and ask them not to try to imitate the official news writing style but be themselves instead," says Jean K. Min, the head of the international operations at OhmyNews.
About one third of the contributed stories end up in the wastebasket. Still the citizen reporters write more than 70 percent of the news. "Articles which have both facts and opinions are acceptable when they are good," Min explains.
According to Min, many professional journalists write for OhmyNews in their free time, because at work the editorial line or the style of the stories restricts their freedom of expression. When OhmyNews was launched in February 2000, 727 writers listed themselves as contributors. Now they number more than 35,000.
"Making money is important, but more important is maintaining our identity," says the OhmyNews founder. In his office, Mr. Oh explains how OhmyNews has been able to survive economically.
The launching was possible thanks to funds from capital investors at the time of the Internet boom. Currently the company is now making a small profit. Seventy percent of the income is from advertising, 20 percent from selling content to other news sites.
"The importance of the advertisers must not grow too big," says Mr. Oh. He has the face of a marathoner, and a serious, sincere look. Besides advertisements, OhmyNews has other unique ways to earn money.
For example, readers can contribute small fees directly to the writers for stories they think are good, and OhmyNews receives a small commission. OhmyNews has also launched a weekly newspaper, which is handed out for free in the streets and which can be subscribed for a fee.
"We had to launch a weekly because we were not officially a media according to the law," Oh explains.
Now OhmyNews is the sixth most important media in the country, according to domestic rankings. In Internet site rankings, OhmyNews is the 16th most popular site, but in three years it has already surpassed many major news sites.
The number of visitors to OhmyNews tends to increase considerably before elections or in otherwise politically agitated times.
OhmyNews is read in South Korea especially by the so-called "386-generation," meaning they are in their 30s, studied in the 1980s and were born in the 1960s.
In the 1980s they were out in the streets demonstrating against the military dictatorship, and now they are utilizing the Internet.
OhmyNews became a small sensation in the 2002 presidential election, when Roh Moo Hyun, regarded as liberal, became the president. The election of Roh was a surprise for many, especially as the conservative major dailies opposed him. His electoral victory was generally seen to have taken place at least partly thanks to the existence of OhmyNews.
After getting elected, Roh gave his first official interview to OhmyNews. After that, others needed to wait their turn for weeks.
(Translation from Finnish by Antti Leppanen)
OhmyNews and 'wired red devils'-Asia Times
By James Borton
November 25, 2004
While South Korea's journalists and political leaders have been debating how to reform Korean media for decades, the hot new OhmyNews website has paved the way for a new type of democratic journalism with its thousands of 'Net citizens - netizens - as contributors. Readership is in the millions and netizens act when called upon.
Broadband connectivity in South Korea, a country not much larger than the US state of Virginia, is rapidly transforming the lives of its 49 million citizens, and along the way serving up a populist and successful virtual news medium.
Kim Soung-su, 33, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom, takes pride in his role as one of the more than 35,000 new citizen-reporters or netizens; he writes film reviews and commentaries on US foreign policy for OhmyNews.com.
"OhmyNews provides alternative views to Korean society, and I think that many young Korean readers want to see various perspectives on their society," Kim said in an interview with Asia Times Online.
Since its start-up four years ago, OhmyNews has shaken the very foundations of South Korean journalism. The popular website averages several million hits each day. As a result, South Korea's overwhelmingly conservative mainstream newspapers have been placed on notice that they had better become more relevant because of the increasing number of "wired red devils", the staid print media's reference to the rising influence of online Korean youth.
This was borne out when President Roh granted his first domestic exclusive interview to the 40-year-old founder and chief executive officer of OhmyNews, Oh Yeon-ho (naturally, Mr Oh's news site is called OhmyNews), a few months after his election in February 2003.
Of course, an interview was in order as a show of gratitude to the wired red devils. The new president owed his dramatic victory in 2003 largely to Korea's online next generation of "wired red devils". On December 19, 2002, a very cool election day in Seoul, exit polls had forecast that the 56-year-old reformist candidate, an early favorite among Korea's youth, was losing the election.
People's online media elected Korea's outsider president
Roh's tech-savvy liberal supporters sparked a tsunami of Internet chatter to drum up last-minute voting support. In a matter of minutes, more than a million e-mails were sent to mobile phones and online accounts urging supporters to go out and vote. This online rallying cry sent young voters to polling stations nationwide and delivered a narrow 2.3% election victory to the self-proclaimed political outsider Roh, who had been summarily rejected by South Korea's conservative media.
Roh's victory and the virtual 11th-hour Internet appeal catapulted OhmyNews into a formidable news channel. After all, the most significant factor in the 2002 election was that seven out of 10 voters ranged in age between 20 and 40 and about 90% of that demographic uses the Internet, mostly domestically. And OhmyNews proved to be an instrumental channel in influencing the campaign for the South Korean 'Net citizens movement.
"OhmyNews, as a progressive Internet news [medium], played a vital role in galvanizing netizens during the 2002 presidential election," Jean K Min, director of international development at OhmyNews, claimed in an Asia Times Online interview. Min's comments underscored OhmyNews pivotal role in mobilizing young Koreans to rush to the polling stations in 2002, but it did not endorse a particular candidate.
Both before and after his election, Roh had clashed head-on with the country's established print media, accusing them of distorting his political intentions and saying his election would mean disruption, even chaos. The influential print-media establishment is composed of the "big three" conservative dailies, the Chosun, Jong Ang and Dong-A Ilbos, that lead the nation in circulation.
Roh's zealous campaign for media reforms has succeeded in stimulating further support for online media, and that includes the development of pressian.com, an Internet newspaper developed mainly by career journalists, giving impetus to the overall field of Internet news media.
Roh's over-arching purpose for these press reforms is a deliberate effort to overturn the privileges of the media chaebol controlled by powerful family-run business conglomerates. The president's office finally has democratized the daily press briefings, which in the past was often treated as a media fiefdom controlled by the three major dailies. Now more media such as OhmyNews are included.
At the same time, his reform moves have been criticized as efforts to stifle the media that criticize him.
Young Koreans get news from the 'Net'
Korean media observers remain skeptical whether there can be a more democratic and new press order, but one thing is certain, the young South Koreans are on the 'Net and not buying their daily newspaper to get the news.
San Jose Mercury News technology columnist Dan Gillmor wrote recently in his new book We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People for the People: "OhmyNews is transforming the 20th century's journalism-as-lecture model - where organizations tell the audience what the news is and the audience either buys it or doesn't - into something vastly more bottom-up, interactive and democratic."
The rise of websites such as OhmyNews is not startling given these impressive in-country connectivity facts: By 2005, eMarketer, a New York-based online research corporation, estimates that South Korea will have more than 34 million Internet users, accounting for more than two-thirds of the population.
An eMarketer survey of users found that 88.2% of Koreans with access surf the Internet for information, another 79.2% use it for e-mail, 53.8% for news and 42.4% for online shopping. And instant messaging users in South Korea has jumped from 27.5% in 2002 to 45% in 2004.
"I know OhmyNews very well. I do not think that they have had any serious impact on South Korea's conservative print media, like Chosun llbo, the largest daily with over 2 million readers. However, OhmyNews does certainly appeal to the young people, and that is a global phenomenon, with more of the youth getting their news and entertainment online," Park Noh-wang, bureau chief of the South Korean Yonhap News Agency in Washington, DC, said in a telephone interview with Asia Times Online.
The birth of blogs and participatory journalism explains the exponential growth at OhmyNews. The online traffic increase has enabled the company to become the website of "citizen journalism", as it is known, and its full-time staff has increased to 53, including 38 full-time reporters and editors, who often exchange tasks; about 15 people are dedicated to editing. The number of paid "citizen reporters" writing for the website expanded from 727 in the beginning to more than 35,000 today.
According to Min, director of international development, OhmyNews is generating almost US$500,000 a month in advertising revenue."We broke even last year and since then kept generating a monthly profit of about $27,000," he said in an online interview with Asia Times Online.
The website is ranked in the top 16 in South Korea. According to a website message from the founder, Oh Yeon-ho, after three years OhmyNews was breaking even, with 2004 anticipated to yield a modest profit.
A close reading of the site's articles reveals that its young non-professional journalist contributors are anti-corporate, anti-government and often virulently anti-American. OhmyNews covers the topics found in the daily media, from sports and entertainment to politics, but always infused with a point of view.
In an address last May at the 2004 World Association of Newspapers Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, OhmyNews chief Oh Yeon-ho commented on his expanding "news guerrilla" organization: "By means of the Internet, OhmyNews created a two-way journalism. Our readers are no longer passive. They can be reporters anytime they want. The main concept of OhmyNews is 'Every citizen is a reporter,'" he said.
Oh, a veteran journalist and former director of the news department for Mahl, an alternative monthly magazine, struggled initially in setting up his populist website but said that the "last four years have been our success. If OhmyNews continues to grow, it will be based on the founding principle that all citizens are reporters."
According to OhmyNews sources, only 20% of the site's copy each day is written by staff journalists. The balance is totally dependent on outside contributors, including professors, police officers, students, housewives, business people - everyone.
A nationwide survey of media workers by Media Today, a South Korean trade weekly specializing in journalism, claims that 32% of the respondents cited OhmyNews as the medium whose influence was most likely to expand dramatically. The largest contributing factor to its impact is the website's interactivity.
The website has established its own internal canon of news objectivity and accuracy through a simple grading or ranking system of articles submitted. Those articles submitted as straight news are fact-checked by the editors. Writers are paid small amounts depending on how the stories are ranked in quality and value using forestry terminology, from "kindling" to "rare species".
"OhmyNews citizen-reporters are paid from US$20 to as little as $2, depending on the place [each article] is assigned by our editors," Min said.
South Korea's major print media pay their reporters very well since they continue to monopolize the advertising market. It is known that Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's largest daily in terms of circulation, pays its staff an average of 70 million to 80 million won, or $60,000-70,000 a year" said Min.
The site was recently recognized at the fifth World Forum on E-Democracy hosted by PoliticsOnline, in a ceremony in France, as one of the global players instrumental in changing the world of the Internet and politics.
South Korea's youth culture is forcing the development of new participatory forms of online journalism and influencing innovative social/political configurations in media.
The emergence of citizen reporters is succeeding in breaking down the monopoly of information control and ownership by conservative economic media elites. Now mainstream news outlets are even adopting more interactive features in their online versions. There's a long way to go, but all of this has led significantly to the democratization of South Korea's new media, offering online voices from ordinary citizens such as Kim Soung-su, the philosophy graduate student writing on film and foreign policy.
The three proposed media reform bills would:
# Limit the total market share of the three major dailies to 60% and any paper would be barred from holding more than 30% of the entire market; advertising would be limited to no more than 50% of a newspaper; of the market and thus can sway public opinion.
# Provide redress for those harmed by inaccurate and damaging media reporting.
# Amend the broadcast law to provide for more diversity of views.
Log on. And don't forget to leave a tip-Financial Times
By Anna Fifield in Seoul
November 6 2004
OhmyNews relies on 35,000 "citizen reporters" - members of the public who offer news and views on life in South Korea for a token $20 if their story makes it to the top spot. Last month it started a tipping service which meant that its readers could reward writers for good service, just like a waiter or hairdresser. The result? In just two days Kim Young-ok, a philosophy lecturer, earned Won22.6m - about $22,000 and roughly the average annual wage in South Korea.
Mr Kim's winning posting was an attack on the Constitutional Court's decision to block a state plan to move the administrative capital from Seoul. More than 4,500 people tipped him up to the maximum of Won10,000.
Mr Kim's argument that the unelected court's decision was undemocratic clearly struck a chord with the 500,000 teenagers and 20-somethings who read OhmyNews stories each day.
The site was founded just before the bursting of the dotcom bubble by Oh Yeon-Ho - a former student leader who spent a year behind bars in the late 1980s for praising North Korea. Mr Oh's brainchild isacertainly a rev-olutionary innovation.
With its motto "Every citizen is a reporter", the website provides an alternative to South Korea's mainly conservative newspapers.
In 2000, OhmyNews scored just 1.5 per cent in the annual Sisa media survey of South Korea's most influential media, compared with 66 per cent and 61 per cent respectively for the Korean Broadcasting Service and con-servative Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
But by last month OhmyNews stood at 18 per cent, only a few points behind the JoongAng Ilbo, another conservative newspaper, while the KBS and Chosun's influence had been eroded to 58 and 54 per cent each.
Now it is achieving something that many traditional news websites have been struggling to pull off - making a profit.
Internet entrepreneurs should also take note: the key to turning a dotcom dollar is asking your customers to pay afterwards, not in advance.
Korea's citizen reporters take on traditional media -Financial Times
By Anna Fifield
November 6 2004
When Oh Yeon-ho worked for the small left-wing magazine The Monthly Mahl in the late 1980s, he was regularly shunned by snobbish reporters from conservative papers and excluded from government pressrooms.
His annoyance gnawed away until he one day resolved, "Every citizen is a reporter" - the idea on which his pioneering news service is based.
Now Mr Oh is having the last laugh. His OhmyNews website is revolutionising South Korea's media world, taking on the traditional press and engaging swathes of young Koreans in politics.
"From that time I have felt Korea's media market is very conservative so I've been trying to make it equal," Mr Oh says at the website's modest offices in downtown Seoul. "Our readers have high loyalty because the mainstream media ignores their voices."
OhmyNews carries news as well as opinion pieces, film reviews and travel stories. It has 40 staff reporters, fact-checkers and subeditors but, unlike traditional news organisations, 80 per cent of its content comes from "citizen reporters" - ordinary Koreans writing about things that matter to them.
OhmyNews started with just 700 citizen reporters four years ago but now has more than 35,000. Three-quarters are male, while the same proportion are in their 20s or 30s.
"Reporters are not some exotic species, they are everyone who has news stories and shares them with others," says Mr Oh.
Politics is the site's dominant theme. There has been a sharp increase in citizen reporters after each election, and the website scored an unparalleled coup after last year's presidential elections, in which it strongly favoured underdog candidate Roh Moo-hyun. When he won, Mr Roh gave his first interview to OhmyNews.
Yoon Young-Chul, professor of media studies at Yonsei University, says OhmyNews has exerted "a formidable influence" on South Korean journalism. "It played a significant role in mobilising the anti-establishment public opinion which certainly helped Roh win the last presidential election," he says.
Although the tipping service has now been introduced and citizen reporters earn Won20,000 ($19, €14, ￡10) for top stories, money is not their motivation, says Jean K. Min, the site's international director. Instead, the OhmyNews format draws people to write, especially the instant feedback through blog-like comments under stories and "eyeballs" marking the number of clicks.
"Our citizen reporters are just crazy about eyeballs - there's a real sense of empowerment by participating," Mr Min says.
Lee Bong-Ryul, a 34-year-old semiconductor engineer in Kyongki province, started writing for OhmyNews four years ago. "As the readers of OhmyNews have grown, I've come to enjoy sharing my opinion with others and been motivated by the fact that my opinion can affect this society at least a little bit," he explains.
Eyeballs appeal not only to reporters' egos but to advertisers as well. About 70 per cent of income comes from advertising, including from the traditionally conservative chaebol - family-run conglomerates - such as Samsung and LG. Another 20 per cent is earned through selling content to the likes of Naver, the number one portal, and Yahoo Korea. Donations top up the rest.
"We saw last week [through the tipping frenzy] that revenues could dramatically increase," Mr Min says. Launched with Won100m from Mr Oh and his friends, OhmyNews moved into profit last year, making a modest Won200m, and that is expected to double this year.
With endless blogs and news sites crowding the internet, what is the secret of OhmyNews's success?
Korea-specific factors have a lot to do with it. As well as the overwhelming dominance of conservative papers, three-quarters of homes have broadband access and Korea is a homogeneous and unipolar society - one issue can engulf the nation in a day or two.
Global interest in the idea is growing. Last month Mr Oh spoke to the Oslo Editors' Forum and he has been invited to Harvard next month and the London School of Economics in January. Exporting the business model, not to mention the software, could bring in much more revenue.
But there are some doubts over whether this very Korean idea will work abroad. A Japanese website based on OhmyNews, Janjan, has been launched but has not been successful.
"What has been unique in South Korea for the past few years has been the three-way alliance between the ruling regime, movement groups and pro-government news media," says Yonsei's Prof Yoon.
"That is one reason we do not see sites such as OhmyNews in other internet-advanced nations."
Korea's News Crusaders-Far Eastern Economic Review
South Korean real-time news site, OhmyNews, has turned every citizen into a reporter. Now, the founder aims to export his success story overseas
By Jeremy Wagstaff/SEOUL
Issue cover-dated October 07, 2004
SOUTH KOREA'S MEDIA has been turned on its head by an upstart Internet news portal called OhmyNews. But can its revolutionary brand of citizen reporting and Internet-only delivery work elsewhere?
It started, simply enough, with one man's anger. When mainstream Korean newspapers in 1999 started writing about the massacre of Korean refugees at No Gun Ri by United States soldiers nearly 50 years before, the story came as no surprise to local journalist Oh Yeon Ho. For one thing, the dailies were merely playing catch-up with U.S. news agency Associated Press, which had broken the story a few days earlier. For another, Oh had written a very similar story four years before: His story had appeared in a small left-wing Korean magazine called Mal, where it was largely ignored, and, unlike the AP story, won no Pulitzer prize. "I was just a proletarian of the media world," he says.
It was then, Oh recalls, that he decided that South Koreans deserved something better. No longer should they have to rely on what he saw as a conservative media elite interested only in news that served their purposes. "It was a very sad thing for me," says Oh of the fact that local media had ignored the No Gun Ri massacre for so long, writing on it only when a foreign news organization started to dig. "Which is why I decided to create a new kind of newspaper."
His answer: An Internet Web site called OhmyNews, set up with $120,000 worth of computers and software. Four years on, and at an overall cost of $1.5 million, it has become one of the country's most influential news outlets. Its tireless coverage of Roh Moo Hyun in the 2002 presidential election--a candidate largely ignored by the mainstream press--won it the first post-victory interview with Roh, nationwide recognition by millions of the president's young followers and the grudging admiration of Oh's foes, the newspaper barons.
OhmyNews is in fact little more than a Web site, edited by Oh and his fellow editors, and filled by ordinary members of the public--what the left-leaning Oh calls "citizen reporters"--who submit stories, comments, pictures and sometimes video by e-mail and from their cellphones. More than 30,000 of them regularly post pieces, and many more add their comments. A team of editors sift through the material, weeding out potential legal problems and rewriting for readability, while a handful of full-time reporters add their own stories on the top events of the day. Many of those full-time reporters come from the ranks of contributors, usually after their talents have been spotted by Oh and his team. Kim Young Kyun, for example, attracted the attention of Oh after, as an unemployed history graduate in the southeastern city of Pusan, covering local stories ignored by the mainstream press.
But the bulk of the material comes from the readers themselves: When popular anger against the parliament simmered over earlier this year over its attempt to impeach the president, for example, millions of people used their cellphones to access OhmyNews. Many of them, already part of the thousands of demonstrators cramming the streets of the capital, added content and comments: One item alone attracted 85,000 responses.
All of this has made OhmyNews a household name in Korea and an important alternative source of news for Koreans frustrated by traditional media, but for its founder its lesson is far broader. By allowing ordinary people to submit news and commentary, OhmyNews offers an interactive, democratic style of reporting that complements and challenges the traditional media. It has more news-gathering muscle than many newspapers could afford, with thousands of citizens sniffing out stories. For sure, it has been known to be fast and loose with the facts, but it has influence, and, with widespread tech infrastructure, it's a medium that is here to stay.
"In Korea, generally we welcome this challenge because OhmyNews journalism claims a stance that is more about justice, open-mindedness and 'everybody could be a journalist'," says Don Kim, a former reporter. Overseas, OhmyNews has won fans among those who see it less as a challenge to existing media and more a futuristic collaboration between the professional and amateur worlds. "OhmyNews is an experiment in tomorrow. So far, it's a brilliant one," wrote columnist Dan Gillmor in his recent book, We The Media.
The site has attracted some advertising and broke even last year. Now, Oh and his team hope to export the idea and squeeze some profit out of the shoestring operation. Earlier this year he launched an English-language version of OhmyNews. For now, it takes contributions by e-mail, but engineers are working on translating the Korean software used on the local-language site so that citizen reporters across the world can upload their contributions automatically, says OhmyNews's international director, Jean K. Min. Then, Min says, the company hopes to sell the whole software package and its experience to any customer wanting to mimic the OhmyNews business model. "Potential customers will be buying not only software but the extensive know-how OhmyNews has accumulated in nearly five years of operations," Min says. Oh says he has already found interest from news organizations in Norway, Japan and the U.S.
ACCESSIBILITY IS THE KEY
While OhmyNews has found a place in Korean hearts, sceptics think it may not be so welcome abroad. They point to Korea's three main newspapers, which have dominated mainstream journalism and are so conservative that they reported little of the left-leaning Roh's presidential campaign. That kind of dominance may exist elsewhere, but not without some form of independent media emerging as a counterbalance. "In the West, we already have things like Indymedia and blogs," says Robert Koehler, an American working as a translator in Seoul, who writes a blog on Korean politics and culture. "One of the things that made OhmyNews so revolutionary in Korea was that there were previously no 'alternative' news media."
Others point to the fact that Korea is one of the most technologically advanced places on earth, where most people have a broadband Internet connection, and are connected even when they're away from a computer, via a cellphone with built-in browser and camera. This massive penetration has created a way of life that's "always on," says OhmyNews chief editor Jeong Woon Hyeon. He says the infrastructure is the fundamental part of the recipe: "You can't have a factory if you don't have a well-paved road." But as broadband is rolled out around the globe, the instant-news medium will become more accessible.
The country's homogeneous culture, however, may make OhmyNews' success a peculiarly Korean phenomenon. With most Koreans living in the cities, they tend to be absorbed by the same kinds of issues, usually at the same time, resulting in one big fevered discussion. "I wonder whether it's exportable," says Yoon Young-Chul, professor of media studies at Yonsei University. "Korea might be a specific case."
OhmyNews has its problems: There are accusations that its reporting is not so much journalism as polemic. Critics have said that a lot of material on OhmyNews is both wrong and incendiary, and would not pass muster overseas. Koehler, the American translator, says much of the OhmyNews coverage of the 2002 campaign was geared towards getting Koreans onto the streets, sometimes by skewing the facts. But in the absence of any credible alternative "younger Koreans . . . tended to believe what they read on OhmyNews," he says. Oh acknowledged that some articles were misleading, but says, "We've started to be more careful about such issues". He says four libel cases have been filed against OhmyNews. The company has lost one but is appealing against the decision.
This could reflect something of a backtrack in Oh's revolutionary journey. Before, he talked of ending the elitism of journalism, where "news is lecture," to where "news is debate." Now, he says, he is more careful to maintain reporting standards, in part by hiring an experienced journalist, 44-year old Jeong, as chief editor. Jeong sees his job as slowly raising the level of professionalism within the organization, while encouraging individual journalists to dig up stories other newspapers won't touch. "That's the power of OhmyNews," he says.
The English version of OhmyNews looks very little like its Korean cousin--the front page is a melting pot of different styles and topics, from night-time in Rome to Turkey's bid to join the European Union--reflecting the different way the OhmyNews model may affect news coverage elsewhere. For now, the most lasting lesson Oh and his team can pass on is that it doesn't take much to start a revolution. "We can do anything so long as we have an Internet connection," he says.
BLOGGERS WHO DARE TO TELL IT LIKE IT IS
By Jeremy Wagstaff
Issue cover-dated October 07, 2004
The art of blogging, or maintaining an on-line diary, may not look much like OhmyNews but it shares some of the same characteristics. There are thousands of blogs written by everyone from chief executives to teenagers, and while most concern themselves with personal affairs, others are political, and often seep into the mainstream. Droves of bloggers attended the recent political parties' conventions in the United States, as much to monitor coverage of the mainstream media as to cover the conventions.
Bloggers have highlighted stories the traditional media have ignored, eventually pushing them into the spotlight: In 2002, for example, they focused on the comments made by Republican Senate leader Trent Lott in support of segregationist leader Strom Thurmond until the mainstream dailies took up the story. And last month, it was a blogger who first raised questions about the authenticity of documents used to support CBS presenter Dan Rather's report on President George W. Bush's National Guard duty. The process may not be quite the same as that of OhmyNews but the results are similar. As Paul Grabowicz, director of the new media programme at the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, wrote on his blog at The Poynter Institute: "One lesson in all this is that the old days of news-media control of the information flow are rapidly fading."
So much so, blogging is now on the cusp of becoming its own media business: Many popular bloggers make a modest income through advertising, while others become part of bigger media empires. In September an Internet-service provider, lured by the advertising possibilities of a site with more than 100,000 readers a month, bought Canadian Jeremy Wright's business and tech blog, Ensight.org, for $15,000 and will pay him to keep it going.
That said, the individualism of blogs leaves the "citizen reporter" somewhat exposed: Bloggers who have written pieces their employers don't approve of often find themselves without a job, as these three recent cases illustrate:
-- Penny Cholmondeley lost her marketing job at the Nunavut Tourism agency after she posted artistic photographs of rubbish around Iqaluit, the far northern Canadian town where she was based.
-- Joyce Park of San Mateo, California, was fired from networking Web site Friendster.com for entries that discussed how the Web site's software worked.
-- Jessica Cutler, a former aide to a U.S. senator, lost her job amid publicity over sexual details in her blog.
Is This the Future of Journalism?-Newsweek
June 18. 2004--Oh Yeon Ho's belief that 'every citizen is a reporter' has changed journalism in South Korea -- and now he's aiming for the world
By Christopher M. Schroeder
The initial premise is conventional: OhmyNews employs 25 trained reporters who cover the major news stories of the day. But the twist comes with another 10 editors who review and post as many as 200 articles written daily by nearly 33,000 "citizen journalists"- anyone who registers can submit a 750-word piece in exchange for a few dollars per story. If the article makes the "Top News" section, the payout is about $11.
"They are writing articles to change the world, not to earn money," says Oh. His contributors must agree to a code of ethics and eschew racism or pornography. Every story is posted instantly to the site. There is, however, an editorial hierarchy to the site's visual design. Hard news (by the site's professional journalists) and the most carefully edited citizen pieces are front and center, followed by softer stories like entertainment, quick community updates and finally, toward the bottom, stories not yet edited by OhmyNews. Most stories are also accompanied by rich and densely populated message boards.
OhmyNews has become one of the most influential news and information sites in Korea, with more than 750,000 unique users per day - this during a period when the leading newspapers' circulation dropped by a third. The site was widely credited with influencing South Korea's election of President Roh Moo-hyun; Roh granted his first postelection interview to OhmyNews. The later protest rallies that came with Roh's impeachment trial were covered in minute-by-minute detail, in text, photography and even video, by dozens of citizen reporters. Oh explains, "OhmyNews is a kind of public square in which the reform-minded generation meet and talk with each other and find confidence. The message they find here: we are not alone. We can change this society."
OhmyNews reached profitability last fall, driven primarily by advertising (ranging from small merchants to Samsung) with additional revenue from conferences, content licenses and voluntary donations from users. Although ad revenue is expected to grow 50 percent this year, Oh suspects that remaining profitable will remain a challenge. "I have to make money," he says, "but I am not an expert in that. Deep in my heart, I am still a reporter."
Critics from traditional news publishers in Korea charge that OhmyNews confuses message board posting with news, and that getting to the truth in any story requires painstaking reporting and editing by trained professionals. But OhmyNews's audience - primarily in their 20s and 30s - may not agree. When some Yonsei University students recently met with a visiting reporter to discuss the future of news, one psychology major put it simply: "How can you ever get truth from one source? The Internet allows us to check multiple sources, to explore message-board postings, to debate issues with others - that is the only way to find truth. And besides, what good is information if you can't react to it?" "We're not stupid," added a business student. "We know that there is a difference between a message board, a traditional journal and OhmyNews. But by putting them together, our understanding is better. We can piece together truth." Oh is quick to point out that in four years, Ohmynews has had to publish only four retractions and has never had any significant legal issues.
In some ways, Oh says, OhmyNews is a "special product of Korea." Koreans had relatively little public access to open and free dialogue and a large portion had grown dissatisfied with the mainstream conservative media. In addition, Korea's small size makes news coverage more manageable - one of Oh's professional journalists is rarely more than a few hours away from where a citizen journalist is reporting. Korea is also, in Oh's words, "a unipolar society, where the entire country can be engulfed by just a couple of issues." And finally, the nearly 70 percent penetration of broadband Internet access in Korea allows users to engage more readily; Oh can also experiment in multimedia offerings such as OhmyTV and Web radio.
Despite these unique factors in Korea, Oh strongly believes that there is a global need to broaden the definition of news consumption and has recently launched OhmyNews International in English.
Will he find a willing audience in the United States? American television audiences are already familiar with "citizen witnesses" supplying news footage, from Rodney King to September 11. Online, from eBay to Craigslist.org, individuals are self-publishing commercial enterprises, and Weblogs have become a national hobby. On a more organized scale, About.com offers how-to advice from hundreds of self-posting experts around the nation, and Wikipedia.com is a self-posting encyclopedia where more than 6,000 active contributors have submitted 600,000 articles on countless topics.
So is a more active participation and interaction with news far behind? Oh thinks so. But he is quick to caution: "Technology itself cannot change society. Korean citizens were ready to participate. Only prepared people, who can use the merits of technology, can make a difference."
Online Newspaper Shakes Up Korean Politics-The New York Times
March 6, 2003
By HOWARD W. FRENCH SEOUL, South Korea For years, people will be debating what made this country go from conservative to liberal, from gerontocracy to youth culture and from staunchly pro-American to a deeply ambivalent ally all seemingly overnight.
For most here, the change is symbolized by the election in December of Roh Moo Hyun, a reformist lawyer with a disarmingly unfussy style who at 56 is youthful by South Korean political standards. But for many observers, the most important agent of change has been the Internet.
By some measures, South Korea is the most wired country in the world, with broadband connections in nearly 70 percent of households. In the last year, as the elections were approaching, more and more people were getting their information and political analysis from spunky news services on the Internet instead of from the country's overwhelmingly conservative newspapers.
Most influential by far has been a feisty three-year-old start up with the unusual name of OhmyNews. Around election time the free online news service was registering 20 million page views per day.
Although things have cooled down a bit, even these days the service averages about 14 million visits daily, in a country of only about 40 million people.
The online newspaper, which began with only four employees, started as a glimmer in the eye of Oh Yeon Ho, now 38, a lifelong journalistic rabble rouser who wrote for underground progressive magazines during the long years of dictatorship here.
Its name, OhmyNews, a play on the expression "Oh my God!" which entered the Korean language by way of a comedian who popularized it around the time the online service was founded in 2000.
Although the staff has grown to 41, from the beginning the electronic newspaper's unusual concept has been to rely mostly on contributions from ordinary readers all over the country, who send dispatches about everything from local happenings and personal musings to national politics.
Only 20 percent of the paper each day is written by staff journalists. So far, a computer check shows, there have been more than 10,000 other bylines.
The newspaper deals with questions of objectivity and accuracy by grading articles according to their content. Those that are presented as straight news are fact-checked by editors. Writers are paid small amounts, which vary according to how the stories are ranked, using forestry terminology, from "kindling" to "rare species."
"The professional news culture has eroded our journalism," he said, "and I have always wanted to revitalize it. Since I had no money, I decided to use the Internet, which has made this guerrilla strategy possible."
The kind of immediacy this brand of journalism can bring to a story was brought home again in late January by the dispatches of a firefighter from the central city of Taegu, who sent gripping accounts of the subway arson disaster there, which killed nearly 200 people.
More pertinent to the impact OhmyNews has had on the country's political culture were reports the service ran last summer after two schoolgirls were crushed to death by a United States Army armored vehicle on patrol.
OhmyNews's reports of the incident were widely seen as forcing the hand of the mainstream media to pay attention to a story that conservative tradition here suggests they might have been inclined to ignore.
The rest is, as they say, history: a series of demonstrations against the Army presence here snowballed in the fall and winter, becoming a huge national movement that many see as having propelled the candidacy of Mr. Roh.
The new president was, until then, a relative unknown and third in a field of three major candidates. If no one else caught on to this link, Mr. Roh appears to have. After his election, he granted OhmyNews the first interview he gave to any Korean news organization.
For Mr. Oh, the story of the American military accident had echoes of one of his first big scoops, a story he wrote as a little-known freelance journalist in 1994 on the No Gun Ri incident, a reported massacre of South Korean refugees by United States military forces who opened fire on them at a railroad trestle in the summer of 1950, during the Korean War.
The South Korean press made almost no mention of his reports after he broke the story, but five years later The Associated Press wrote about the incident, winning a Pulitzer Prize for its subsequent investigation with American Army veterans.
"Once the American media picked up the story, our mainstream newspapers wrote about No Gun Ri as if it was a fresh incident," Mr. Oh said. "This made me realize that we have a real imbalance in our media, 80 percent conservative and 20 percent liberal, and it needed to be corrected. My goal is 50-50."
After he broke the No Gun Ri story, Mr. Oh went away to school in the United States, earning a master's degree at the conservative, explicitly Christian Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., whose president is the evangelist pastor Pat Robertson. It might have seemed like an unlikely choice, but Mr. Oh said it was deliberate.
"Pat Robertson and I are very different in temperament and ideology, but we are very similar in strategy," said Mr. Oh, who became what he calls a serious Christian during his stay in the United States. "They are very right-wing and wanted to overthrow what they saw as a liberal media establishment. I wanted to overthrow a right-wing media establishment, and I learned a lot from them."
Although OhmyNews pays its staff less than reporters earn at the top South Korean newspapers, morale appears to very high. "Wherever I go, people ask me, `What about the pay?' " said Son Byung Kwan, 31, a reporter who helped break the story about the American soldiers' accident. "I took a 30 percent pay cut to work here, but things couldn't be better. My company is so famous that I have become well known, and best of all, my stories have real impact."
South Korea's web guerrillas-BBC
March 12, 2003--Oh Yeon-ho, a softly spoken bespectacled man, may not look like a guerrilla fighter, but that is how he sees himself and many others of his generation.
They are called the 386 generation in South Korea - people in their 30s, educated in the 1980s and born in the 1960s.
"My generation, the 386 generation, were in the streets fighting in the 80s against the military dictatorship. Now, 20 years later, we are combat-ready with our internet," he said at his office in downtown Seoul.
"We really want to be part of forming public opinion - and all of us, all of the 386 generation are now deployed with the internet, ready to fight."
Three years ago, Mr Oh turned to the internet in his battle to create a new form of journalism in South Korea.
Today, his internet newspaper OhmyNews is one of the country's most powerful news services.
Its reports on the deaths of two South Korean schoolgirls, run down by an American armoured military vehicle last June, prompted one reader to call for demonstrations.
The idea snowballed, and led to some of the largest displays of anti-American sentiment in the country in recent years.
The paper also played a part in helping to swing public opinion behind Roh Moo-hyun during December's presidential election campaign.
At that time, OhmyNews registered as many as 20 million hits a day, although it has now settled down to around 15 million hits.
Mr Oh sees the outcome of the election as a victory for the alternative media in South Korea.
"In the past, the conservative papers in Korea could - and did - lead public opinion. They had the monopoly.
They were against Roh Moo-hyun's candidacy. But OhmyNews supported the Roh Moo-hyun phenomenon, with all the netizens participating.
"In our battle between the conservative media and the netizens of Korea, the netizens won," he said.
The internet is where many South Koreans, particularly the younger generation, get their news first, bypassing the traditional media.
The country is one of the most wired in the world, with nearly 70% of households enjoying broadband connections.
There are now several internet newspapers in South Korea, but OhmyNews is the most popular - and one of the most radical.
It was launched by Mr Oh, who used to write for radical underground magazines three years ago.
"I launched OhmyNews on 22 February, in the year 2000 at 2.22pm. That was my farewell to the journalism of the 20th Century," he said, smiling.
His goal was to change the news culture into one in which the public was involved in producing, as well as reading, the news.
"It was a one-way street before", said Mr Oh. "The concept of our paper is that all citizens can participate," he said.
His goal succeeded. The paper has a professional staff of just 41, and 23,000 "citizen reporters" who send in news reports on just about anything, and determine OhmyNews' editorial policy.
Articles are rigorously fact-checked by in-house staff; but only a handful are re-written or republished, and just two articles have ended up in legal action in the courts.
Pay for the "citizen reporters" varies from nothing to just under $20, but the top stories will be carried with the writer's by-line and the knowledge that millions of people could be reading their article.
They are proud of their success and growing influence.
OhmyNews boasts a string of scoops, including recent revelations that the Hyundai group paid hundreds of millions of dollars secretly to North Korea just before the historic inter-Korean summit three years ago.
It has also won battles in getting previously closed press rooms at government ministries opened up to wider media outlets.
And just in case you're wondering about the name? OhmyNews was a play on the phrase "Oh my God" which became a catchphrase of a popular comedian.
"It wasn't connected to my surname," laughed Mr Oh.
"I just wanted to show that the name underlined my belief that all citizens can be reporters; and the word Oh - its like you are surprised, when you see something that really has news value and you get excited about it," he said.
Citizen Reporters Make the News-WIRED.com
By Leander Kahney May. 17, 2003 PT
In the West, people with a journalistic bent turn to weblogs to exercise the urge to publish news or comment on events of the day.
But in South Korea, the publishing instinct is directed toward a big, collaborative online newspaper that has emerged as one of the country's most influential media outlets.
OhmyNews is a unique experiment in "citizen journalism": Anyone who registers with the site can become a paid reporter.
"With OhmyNews, we wanted to say goodbye to 20th-century journalism where people only saw things through the eyes of the mainstream, conservative media," said editor and founder, Oh Yeon-ho. "Our main concept is every citizen can be a reporter. We put everything out there and people judge the truth for themselves."
Launched three years ago, OhmyNews has grown from a staff of four to more than 40 editors and reporters who publish about 200 stories a day. The vast majority of the news, however, is written by more than 26,000 registered citizen journalists, who come from all walks of life, from chambermaids to professional writers.
The site attracts an estimated 2 million daily readers, and has been widely credited with helping to elect South Korea's new progressive president, Roh Moo-hyun. The Guardian newspaper called OhmyNews "arguably the world's most domestically powerful news site."
"OhmyNews is as influential as any newspaper," a South Korean diplomat told the paper. "No policy maker can afford to ignore it. South Korea is changing in ways that we cannot believe ourselves."
OhmyNews was founded in 2000 by Oh, a veteran investigative journalist, in reaction to the country's entrenched conservative media. Oh's intention was to publish material that would make readers sit up in exclamation, hence its name -- a play on "Oh my God!" Oh didn't have any money. A website written by amateurs was his only option.
Calling itself a "news guerilla organization" -- and adopting the motto, "Every Citizen is a Reporter" -- OhmyNews has become a wild, inconsistent, unpredictable blend of the Drudge Report, Slashdot and a traditional, but partisan, newspaper.
OhmyNews tends to be anticorporate, antigovernment and anti-American. Stories are often subjective, oozing with emotion and odd personal tidbits. But they also can be passionate, detailed and knowledgeably written. The site covers everything a traditional newspaper covers -- from sports to international politics -- but does it with heaps of personality.
"It's entertaining, it's heartfelt and it's caring," said Don Park, a Korean-American reader who said he visits OhmyNews daily. "It's like blogs. It has a personal side and an emotional side. It has human texture. It's not bland and objective like traditional news. There's a definite bias. It's not professional, but you get the facts…. I trust it."
Park said he'd love to see something like OhmyNews in the United States. Bored with what he sees as the button-down objectivity of U.S. media, he's sophisticated enough to read between the lines or take stories with a pinch of salt.
OhmyNews may not be The Washington Post, but it has enjoyed its fair share of scoops, gripping eyewitness accounts and heavy-hitting op-ed comment (one post recently got a Japanese sports editor fired for making disparaging comments about Korea).
OhmyNews reporters are given access to government ministries and public institutions, putting them on level footing with professional reporters. Top officials increasingly give OhmyNews journalists exclusive interviews, a precedent set by President Roh, who gave his first postelection interview to OhmyNews -- a startling snub of the country's established media.
OhmyNews reporters are given free reign to post anything they like on the site. The only requirement is that they use their real identities. The site warns contributors that they bear sole responsibility for whatever they post. Copyright is shared between the site and the reporter, who is free to republish the material elsewhere.
The pay ranges from nothing to about $16, depending on how a story is ranked by the editors -- "basic," "bonus" or "special."
The production process resembles a traditional newspaper, but is conducted in public rather than behind closed doors. Discussion forums on the site allow reporters and editors to discuss story ideas with citizen contributors. If an idea has legs, a citizen reporter will pick it up and report it on their own time and expense.
Stories are submitted through a Web interface and enter an editing queue before going live. According to Oh, all stories are fact checked and edited by professional editors. Only two stories have led to defamation cases, he said.
The system is not perfect. In fact, it appears to be somewhat fast and loose. OhmyNews has published hoaxes, including a report of the assassination of Bill Gates generated by a fake CNN news site. Several articles have been retracted, and there are ongoing problems with reporters' undisclosed conflicts of interest.
"Marketing people and activists can pose as journalists to promote their own products and ideas," said Choi Joon-suk, a senior editor at South Korea's largest printed newspaper, Chosun Ilbo. "The quality of the online media is a huge problem."
Of course, as the story of The New York Times' rogue reporter Jayson Blair attests, problems with accuracy and truthfulness aren't limited to sites like OhmyNews. In response, OhmyNews is currently trying to purge its membership of phony identities by insisting that contributors disclose bank account details.
Whatever the problems, the site continues to exert a profound influence on Korean culture, which is arguably the most "wired" on the planet. About 70 percent of the population has access to a broadband Internet connection, and many aspects of South Korean daily life are conducted online, including political opinion making. South Korea has been dubbed one of the world's leading "Webocracies."
South Korea's President Roh had better watch out. His brief honeymoon with OhmyNews appears to be over. Thanks to his cozying up to President Bush during this week's summit in Washington, D.C., OhmyNews contributors are turning on him.
"He's kissing Mr. Bush's ass," someone posted on the site in a comment typical of the OhmyNews sentiment. Just as the revolutionary publication helped elect Roh, it surely can help depose him.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
A new brand of journalism is taking root in South Korea-San Jose Mercury News
Dan Gillmor: Posted on Sun, May. 18, 2003
SEOUL - Lee Bong-Ryul has a day job as an engineer at a semiconductor company. In his spare time, he's helping to shape tomorrow's journalism.
Lee is an active ``citizen-reporter'' for OhmyNews, an online news service. Only 4 years old, the publication has already shaken up the South Korean journalism and political establishments while attracting an enormous audience.
OhmyNews is transforming the 20th century's journalism-as-lecture model, where organizations tell the audience what the news is and the audience either buys it or doesn't, into something vastly more bottom-up, interactive and democratic.
The influence of OhmyNews is substantial, and expanding. It's credited with having helped elect the nation's current president, Roh Moo Hyun, who ran as a reformer. Roh granted his first post-election interview to the publication, snubbing the three major conservative newspapers that have dominated the print-journalism scene for years.
Even taxi drivers who don't have time for newspapers have heard of OhmyNews. The site draws millions of visitors daily. Advertisers are supporting both the Korean-language Web site (www.ohmy news.com) and a weekly print edition, and the operation has been profitable in recent months, according to its chief executive and founder, Oh Yeon-Ho.
Oh is a 38-year-old former writer for progressive magazines. With a staff of about 50 and legions of ``citizen-reporter'' contributors -- more than 26,000 have signed up, and more than 15,000 have published stories under their bylines -- Oh and his colleagues are creating something entirely new.
``The main concept is that every citizen can be a reporter,'' he says. ``We changed the concept of the reporter.''
The old way meant becoming a professional journalist and getting a press card -- a credentialed and somewhat elevated position in South Korean society. (I know that must sound bizarre to readers in the United States, where we journalists enjoy roughly the same public esteem as politicians and used-car salesmen.)
The new way, Oh says, is that ``a reporter is the one who has the news and who is trying to inform others.''
The paper's citizen-reporters go into issues that the mainstream media haven't covered, says Jeong Woon-Hyeon, the chief editor.
The site posts about 70 percent of the roughly 200 items submitted each day, after staff editors look at the stories. Postings work on a hierarchy corresponding to their place on the page; the lower the headline appears, the less important or interesting the editors consider it. The higher and more newsworthy the story, the more the freelance contributor gets paid.
The idea isn't entirely new. News organizations have long used stringers, who contribute freelance articles.
What's so different here is that anyone can sign up, and it's not difficult to get published. The Web means space for news is essentially unlimited, and OhmyNews welcomes contributions from just about anyone.
The real-people nature of the contributors lends further appeal to the site. The citizen-reporters do cover politics, economy, culture, arts and science -- the usual subjects you'll find in newspapers -- but they tend to focus more on personally oriented issues like education, job conditions and the environment.
While about 85 percent of the online edition is written by the citizen-reporters, about 90 percent of the weekly print edition is written by the staff.
OhmyNews reflects its bosses' passion for going beyond the conservative papers' constrained view of the world. By several accounts, its coverage of events such as the death of two schoolgirls crushed by a U.S. Army vehicle in an accident last summer has forced the hand of mainstream media that were downplaying the story. Protest demonstrations after that incident evolved into nationwide anger against the United States and a profoundly nationalist fervor that helped elect Roh.
Oh and Jeong reject the perception that OhmyNews is somehow linked to the new government. Clearly, though, they have vastly more in common politically with the semi-reformist regime than the one it replaced, just as they are poles apart from the mass media that were widely seen as supporters of Roh's predecessors.
Oh's rise from underground-magazine writer to powerful media figure has any number of ironies.
One is that the government he disliked was instrumental in wiring the nation for high-speed data access, creating the conditions that ultimately gave OhmyNews an opening. In this wired nation, more than two-thirds of households are connected to the Internet, most with high-speed links. The Internet is an always-on part of everyday life, not an afterthought.
There's the way he came to realize that he should start OhmyNews. He went to the United States from 1997 to 1999 to get a master's degree at Regent University in Virginia. The school's president was Pat Robertson, the evangelist and right-wing political figure.
To know America, Oh says he was told by a journalist friend, you have to know how the conservative right operates. In Robertson's case, part of the operation was counteracting what conservatives saw (and continue to see) as a liberal-oriented mainstream press. Robertson's method was to start his own media outlets.
Regent offered media courses. ``I learned their techniques,'' he says. ``But my approach is quite different.''
In one course, students' homework was to create a new media organization, at least on paper. Oh's imaginary company was the genesis of OhmyNews. (``I got an A-plus,'' he says wryly.)
The vision was to use the Internet, which was then growing like crazy, to tap the power of average people who, Oh strongly believed, didn't back South Korea's government and weren't represented by the conservative media companies that controlled about 80 percent of daily circulation.
OhmyNews' ambitions aren't limited to mere words. It runs video Webcasting services and plans to expand its multimedia presence. Someday, citizen-reporters could be contributing video reports, not just text, in a dazzling, multidirectional sharing of information.
Oh and his colleagues know that the interactive nature of the medium extends far beyond OhmyNews' appeals for contributions from citizen-reporters. Each story has a link to a comments page. Readers can, and do, post comments ranging from supportive to harsh, and they can vote on whether they approve or disapprove of specific comments.
Before joining OhmyNews, Lee was posting politically oriented items to several online bulletin boards, getting little if any response.
OhmyNews, he says, changed the equation. Here, at last, was a publication that reflected some of his views on politics and society -- and that was glad to publish what he wrote.
He doesn't do it for the money. Stories that make the OhmyNews equivalent of the front page earn him about $20, the top rate. He gets commensurately less for stories that run lower on the page and figures he makes between $50 and $100 a month in freelance payments -- not a pittance but hardly a fortune.
Lee has no ambitions to be a professional writer. ``I don't think I'm qualified,'' he says. But he believes he gets, on balance, a greater response for the kinds of stories he writes -- about regular people's lives -- than some of the professional journalism that runs in the newspapers and on the site every day.
The easy coexistence of the amateurs and professionals will, soon enough, seem natural. Publications like OhmyNews will pop up everywhere, because they make sense, combining the best of old and new journalistic forms.
OhmyNews is an experiment in tomorrow. So far, it's looking like a brilliant one.
2004/02/20 오후 2:16
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