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Candlelight 2008: New Media and Korea's Protests
OhmyNews Forum examines the latest role taken on by online communities here
Ida Grandas (jezaky)     Print Article 
Published 2008-06-28 16:23 (KST)   
The 4th OhmyNews Forum was held at Seoul's Digital Media City, June 27.
©2008 OhmyNews Nam S.Y.
©2008 OhmyNews Nam S.Y.
When the candlelight vigils started in Seoul in May, it was not flags of labour unions that were seen at the front lines, but the flags of the Internet community Agora. It was not the big newspaper and broadcasting companies that people turned to to get information about what was going on, but to webcasts, blogs, and Internet communities.

On Friday, citizen reporters, "broadcasting jockeys", members of Internet communities and bloggers gathered at the OhmyNews' fourth International Citizens Reporters' Forum held in Nurtikum Business Tower in Seoul. Under the theme "Candlelight 2008," they discussed how the candlelight vigils are changing the media leadership in Korea. The forum was broadcast live over the Internet, and netizens could participate through an online forum.

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Before the candle light vigils, Afreeca, a popular Korean web-portal for web-casting, and Agora, was mainly used for entertainment. People published videos for fun and discussed topics as food, celebrities and music. But during the last two months, Afreeca have become the main platform for webcasting the protests and the members of Agora has been organizing themselves to participate in the protests.

Furthermore, the number of visitors to citizen journalist sites such as Afreeca and OhmyNews have been steadily increasing. On the days of the largest protests, OhmyNews even reached up to the same numbers of visitors as the big newspapers in Korea.

Many panelists in the forum pointed out that the vigils have changed the definition of what is news and who is a reporter. With simple equipment, such as a camera and notebook, anyone can blog and broadcast.

"I am not a professional journalist. I don't want to become one either," said Na Dong-hyuk, a broadcasting jockey for RK paradigm. When the candle light vigils started, Na observed how media was only scratching on the surface of the events. He felt that there was a need to show more and started a webcast diary. Many times, he found himself present when no other media was present.

Jin Joong-kwon, professor at Joong'ang University, and broadcasting jockey of live webcasts from New Progressive Party, was observing how people who were are passive views of the webcasts turned into active participants of the protests.

"The low resolution made people feeling closer to what was happening," he said, "It stimulated people's feelings."

Online communities have played a similar role. Kwak Min-jung, member of Internet Beauty Cafe, felt that she had to take a stand after she had followed the discussion of her community.

"Before, I've never participated in any demonstration. I was never interested in social issues," she said. "Now, I don't go home for days, I sleep in the streets, I don't wash."

Participation of online communities, webcasting, and blogs are creating a more bottom-up culture, making people active instead of only following leaders. As a result, the leadership of media is changing. Instead of waiting for the traditional media to change, people are taking things in their own hands.

The webcasting during the candle light vigils have also affected traditional media. Ko Jae-yul, reporter at the weekly magazine SisaIN, explained how the young reporters of his magazine wanted to start webcasting, too. First, the idea seemed not in line with the fact that SinsaIN is a weekly magazine. But once they started webcasting, the visits of their web page increased and they met many of their readers who had positive comments in the streets.

"The competition between the netizens and the news can lead to an improvement of democracy in Korea," Oh Yeon-ho, founder and CEO of OhmyNews, said. He pointed at that new media shouldn't replace old media, but instead, they should borrow from each other.

"The candlelight republic is changing the way of participating," said Oh.

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©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ida Grandas

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