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Discovering the International Face of OMN
OMNI looks to the future in a brainstorming session with its European citizen reporters in Brussels
Todd Thacker (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2005-02-21 16:38 (KST)   
OhmyNews CEO Oh Yeon Ho (top right) addresses the meeting of 11 European citizen reporters at a Brussels hotel, Jan. 31.
©2005 Jean K.Min
When OhmyNews went online on Feb. 22, 2000, its four founders ventured into unknown territory with 727 Korean citizen reporters. The man behind the philosophy that "every citizen is a reporter" is Mr. Oh Yeon Ho, a former monthly magazine journalist, who hoped to update the OhmyNews site once a week with a smattering of stories from around the country.

Oh's dream of countering the stranglehold of conservative media coverage quickly caught the attention of Korean netizens. Articles started pouring in, site traffic exploded and five years later the work of some 37,000 citizen reporters is attracting not only the interest of advertisers (OhmyNews turned a profit in late 2003) but also traditional media and academics around the world.

Jeon Yun Ju (left), Sara Williams and Kang Gu Sup listen to a discussion of the future of OhmyNews in Europe.
©2005 Jean K.Min
Now OhmyNews is building a global network of citizen reporters writing in English on OhmyNews International, which opened last June.

To get a better sense of how to achieve this, OhmyNews met with its European citizen reporters at a special gathering in Brussels, Belgium on Jan. 31. On tap were the issues surrounding regional Internet infrastructure, media consumption in Europe and participatory journalism in multicultural societies.

Eleven citizen reporters from Italy, Germany, Norway and a Canadian expat in England attended the one-day conference, along with Korean nationals and their spouses who are based in France, England and Germany.

"The really interesting thing about OhmyNews is that a journalist can take a stand on a story," said Jina Chang, a Korean-born photographer from Norway. "As a citizen reporter, you should be able to write about something you know well -- like a local story -- and take responsibility for that account."

OhmyNews International director Jean K. Min said that before OhmyNews, few people in Korea thought about writing their own views on the Web, "but now we have given them a platform." The group agreed both that newspaper readership in Europe is on a serious decline and that an OhmyNews-style platform is needed there.

Citizen reporter Jina Chang (right) elaborates on Norway's Internet usage as Park Sung Chin (UK) listens on.
©2005 Jean K.Min
Broadband penetration in South Korea is the highest in the world -- over 75 percent -- and is very inexpensive. The nature of an always-on Internet connection allows OhmyNews readers to follow news stories all day long, and use the site as a "playground" for reading and commenting on the news as it happens.

The UK is lagging behind in broadband penetration, but London-based freelancer Sara Williams said the traditional news consumption patterns are slowly changing. "There is a sense of tradition to 'newspaper reading' where (Britons) get their news. But the BBC Web site (the No. 1 site in the UK) is so in-depth, the Internet is certain to play a bigger part (in news reporting) in future."

Medical student Alexander Krabbe said broadband is growing in Germany. "My peers are using the Internet like they use bicycles. Even my grandparents are using it. It is necessary for survival." Ms. Chang and Italian Verdiana Amorosi thought that in their countries, the older generation is less attuned to the Internet, but like Korea, young people find it indispensable for their studies and news.

Other issues pose larger questions for the possibility of an OhmyNews-style media organization in Europe. Multicultural societies, regionalism and dozens of different languages may also challenge OhmyNews when trying to replicate its domestic success. As a small, culturally homogenous nation, Korea displays different media consumption patterns from its European counterparts.

OhmyNews founder Oh Yeon Ho (right) gives a lecture on news writing to the Korean expats during the afternoon session of the conference, Jan. 31.
©2005 Jean K.Min
Park Young Shin, a journalist in France, was doubtful the French would gravitate towards OhmyNews' operation, pointing out that the French use English only when pressed and are very attached to their native regions. Kang Gu Sup, a student in Germany, echoed this thought. "German society is more differentiated, so it is difficult to say Germany will use a single method," he said.

About the setting up of a global news organization, Park Sung Chin, a Korean expat in England, suggested that OhmyNews open a European bureau to promote editorial knowledge of local issues. "Even though the Internet brings people together, I think we need more face-to-face contact between reporters and editors," he said.

Other suggestions included offering an interactive map on OhmyNews International's main page to help readers locate news from their region quickly, and branching out into other languages and the establishment of content sharing agreements with NGOs and local newspapers.

Citizen Reporters: Who We Are and Why We Write

Sara Williams (UK): I heard about OMN from a friend (and citizen reporter) in Korea. I hope to produce a couple of pieces a month. My first piece was a travel article, and I'd like to have a harder focus in future pieces that affect people's lives.

Jina Chang (Norway): I write for journals related to photography but I don't really have much journalistic experience. I'm more of an artist than writer. I got into OhmyNews after writing a correction for a comment on an Iraq story. And then the editor contacted me about becoming a citizen reporter.

Park Young-shin (France): I'm a reporter for Korean radio and one of my producers introduced me to OhmyNews. I've been writing for two years. A year on, I asked myself why I continue to write for OhmyNews, because it is hard to find time to write. (But) "every citizen is a reporter" is about changing the world.

Verdiana Amorosi (Italy): In addition to improving my English, I'm learning a lot about international journalistic practices by comparing my submitted piece with the edited version that appears on OhmyNews. For example, we change the names for sources. But that isn't the case for OhmyNews style.

Kim Soung Su (UK): I write film reviews for OhmyNews International. I'm now a loyal contributor and I feel it is the right thing to do. As a philosophy student, I don't think there is "the truth" but I try to convey my stories faithfully. I'm writing for myself when it comes to the film reviews. My motivation comes from my studies on the negative effects of cyberspace/cyberculture.

Kang Gu Sup (Germany): During the 2002 Korean presidential election, I found unique news via OhmyNews. The withdrawal of Roh Moo Hyun's running mate was covered with updates every 30 minutes. It was a valuable resource to find out what was going on back in Korea -- in real time.

Park Sung Chin (UK): When I first heard about OhmyNews in 2000, I thought it was just another Web site. I was working as an editor in the music scene in London back then, however, it went bankrupt. OhmyNews has, as it grows, been a bigger forum for my stories.

Alex Krabbe (Germany): Writing for OhmyNews is a good chance to learn "real English" by getting my grammar and journalistic style checked by a professional editor. / T. Thacker
OhmyNews celebrated its 5th anniversary on Feb. 22 and we'd like to know which region of the world you're reading from.  (2005-02-18 ~ 2005-03-16)
Asia Pacific
Middle East
North America
South America
South Asia
©2005 OhmyNews

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