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Citizen Forum Inspires Sea-Shanties, Solidarity
Canadian citizen reporter David Kootnikoff sums up his thoughts and experiences in Seoul last week
David Kootnikoff (kaspian)     Print Article 
Published 2005-06-29 13:50 (KST)   
What does a Canadian sea-shanty have to do with a citizen reporters' forum in South Korea? A heck of a lot, I found out. As Marshall Mcluhan predicted all those years ago, the global village is upon us. It's the reason why I found myself belting out Stan Rogers' "Barrett's Privateers" during last weekend's OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum at 3 a.m. under the sizzling neon of Seoul's Gangnam district with David, a Tennesseean English instructor living in Japan.

It's also why OhmyNews has in just five years blossomed from a small kernel in the mind's eye of Oh Yeon Ho into an international network connecting all the continents of the globe.

Now that OhmyNews is going global, the question of how to wield its awesome potential remains more relevant than ever. Will OMNI inspire like-minded netizens to transform the village hall into a conduit for a better quality of life, accountability and a peaceful future? Or will it merely become an extension of some corporate monolith, sucking victims into a vortex of banality?

They're familiar questions, so fundamental that they could never be sufficiently answered over the course of a three-day forum. But if the Korean OhmyNews experience is anything to go by, the latter seems highly unlikely.

Indeed, it felt as though half the battle had been won as David and I struggled together to recall the song. I had unexpectedly tapped into a deep current, "tracing one warm line," as Rogers had sung in another song, that ran from my childhood home on the west coast of Canada to this citizen forum in South Korea. I felt elated, allied to something bigger than myself and it wasn't just the beer or kimchi blinding me with flashes (or burps) of sentimental pap.

I first experienced this feeling on Friday, the previous night, when Oh addressed the forum calling on citizen reporters to write "a new chapter in the history of journalism" and spread "international solidarity for a better world."

As I discovered over the course of the forum, this wasn't just rhetoric, but very real empowerment on a personal level. I witnessed it constantly among my fellow participants whenever they spoke of their home country or bonded over issues of mutual interest.

From Thursday night through Sunday, at formal panel discussions or over late-night beer and soju (Korean rice spirit) sessions, we explored and wrestled with everything from human rights abuses in Iran to the way in which the keyboard-friendly Hangul script has helped Korea achieve 80 percent broadband capacity. We heard how citizen journalism is spreading throughout the world and attempting to adapt to its particular contexts and cultures. While many questions remain unresolved and the outcomes are uncertain, the movement is gathering speed.

The work to bring its international potential alive is really just beginning. Jean K. Min, OMNI's director, expressed the intent to go to the next level, to make "OhmyNews version 2." To do so will require hard work and a dedication to the ideals that inspired the original Korean vision and eventually led to this first international forum.

During Saturday's session, Erik Möller, Chief Research Officer of Wikinews, summed the feeling up well when he acknowledged that "we are the new media, but we don't need to destroy each other" through vicious competitive practices.

My hope is that we don't lose the cooperative, grassroots spirit I witnessed this past weekend. As Clyde Bentley, Professor at the Missouri School of Journalism pointed out, ironically for a forum based on internet participation, citizen journalism returns us to a time, perhaps 75 or more years ago, when community issues were driven by people, not by some gated elite out of touch with everyday concerns.

We've gone so far forward only to find "the road back home again," to quote Rogers again. Judging from this past weekend's forum, it's a journey of rediscovery worth taking. I, for one, am ready for the ride and I'm not the only one. Maybe you know the feeling.
I want to express my gratitude to everyone involved, particularly Oh Yeon Ho, Jean K. Min and Todd Thacker for an excellent and exhausting forum. My apologies to those who had to suffer through our countless renditions of "Barrett's Privateers." I wish I could promise it won't happen again, but I can't.
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Kootnikoff

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