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Indonesia Citizen Journalism on the Rise
With low online penetration, country holds potential for explosive growth
Maria Margaretta Vivijanti (retty67)     Print Article 
Published 2007-03-30 13:11 (KST)   
The Asia Pacific Regional Internet Conference on Operational Technologies (APRICOT) was held at the end of February in Bali. It produced a commitment to make the Internet and ICT (Information Communication Technology) more accessible and affordable to the public. This is an important commitment since we are facing a more global world, a world without borders. With the Internet easily connected, there is no border of time, no border of space. The limitation is only in language and interest. This will make a significant impact to the development of mass media.

According to datafrom the Associations of ISP in Indonesia (APJII), in Indonesia in 2005 there were 16 millions Internet users. Internet World Statistics of January 2007 shows that the number of Internet users in Indonesia were 2 million in the year 2000 and increased to 18 million recently, a 900 percent growth. Yet Indonesia still has only 8 percent of its population connected to the e-world, so the potential market in the future remains enormous. Compared to Singapore (66.3 percent) and Malaysia (38.9 percent), or to South Korea (66.1 percent), Indonesia contains huge growth potential. Of course, realizing such growth is dependent on the political will to educate the Indonesian people and a commitment to provide more affordable Internet access.

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Online media and citizen journalism

The growing population of Internet users will undoubtedly affect the policy of the mainstream media. The existence of the online media, together with the rise of citizen journalism will force the mainstream media to build and preserve their own community. Some printed media have already adjusted by creating online versions, while citizen journalist sites continue to grow.

Indonesian citizen journalism cannot compare with South Korea's OhmyNews, which in seven years has gained worldwide recognition. Yet it does have the talent to grow up. One OhmyNews netizen is an Indonesian who has built her local website 쏱anyingkul," which means intersection in the local dialect of South Sulawesi. In this way, Lily Yulianti tried to engage its netizens to dig into the rich culture of Indonesia, especially from her hometown Makassar.

In my view, it is a wise action to show her compassion to her country while physically she resides in Japan. It's really showing that the e-world is also the world without border. While her reports for OhmyNews are written in English (for worldwide readers), the reporters in Panyingkul are written in the Indonesian language (with readers that sometimes commented in local dialect).

It is stated in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia online, that the rise of citizen journalism is mostly due to the fact that there are some popular topics ignored by the conventional newspapers. Wikipedia also noted the contribution of OhmyNews towards the transformation of the South Korean's conservative political environment. This hints at the need for a place to voice some perspectives held by the public that are not taken account of by the media.

Competitor or complement?

With the fast growing and changing world of media, how will the conventional printed newspapers survive? Are these online media their competitors, or could they become their complements? The answer surely depends on how well the conventional media foresees the needs of its readers, and how good they are at providing their readers a voice.

Online media has the advantage of providing readers with easy access to various kinds of information by searching through thousands of sources instantly. With the rise of citizen journalism, readers can be actively involved as journalists as well. Lacking a journalistic background, the netizen can learn from interaction with other readers and writers. Some professional journalists who join in the group could be their great mentors.

If the conventional media perceives the growth of citizen journalism as a competitor then someone will not survive the competition. Only if they value it as a complement will they grow up together and strengthen each other.

There are some human factors that won't wipe out the conventional media. First, looking through the computer for excessive hours can produce eye strain. So often readers will print stories out for comfort. Reading the news in your leisure time in your own relaxing environment is another factor that also keeps the print media strong. As some big players of the mainstream media have shown, they do receive a great deal of information from eyewitnesses. But they also check the information, as Internet users can always use fake identity, or give false information. So the issue of trustworthiness comes into play.

According to a 10-country survey conducted by GlobeScan (2006) for BBC, Reuters, and the Media Center, Indonesian media is more trusted than the government. Indonesian media is only exceeded by that of Nigeria in winning their public's trust. In the U.S. and U.K., the governments are more trusted than the media. The most trusted news source is national television, followed by the national/regional newspaper, then followed by local newspapers, public radio and international satellite TV. The Internet blogs are still the least trusted news source. Yet, the most important news sources are the television (56 percent), newspapers (21 percent), Internet (9 percent), and radio (9 percent). There is a special note about how the Internet is gaining ground among young people.

While waiting for the increase in Internet usage, conventional media should help the government in educating people about the changes. They can educate people by providing them the news they need, and at the same time give them a place to speak out. In doing this, they will also build loyal readers.

The rise of citizen journalism in Indonesia could really complement the media, as the journalist can seek out public views and get more news direct from the source. Hopefully, journalists can also indirectly teach the public how to present their opinions in writing.

Until today, Indonesian public opinion is still shaped by the mainstream media. The rise of citizen journalism could make a great change as people will have access to a wider spectrum of viewpoints. As an example, a Japanese netizen thanked OhmyNews for publishing her article which she believes made the local newspapers and government focus their eyes on an issue that had been neglected. The issue had already been presented to the local press with no avail, and suddenly after her article was published in OhmyNews the press started digging into the case.

Citizen journalism in Indonesia

The most popular form of citizen journalism in Indonesia is still radio, as most citizens are more attached to radio than to the Internet. It began from the need to avoid traffic jams. Audience members called into the radio to report the traffic situation to help other members of the audience. The worsened traffic in the middle of big cities made people turn to their radios for traffic information, and meanwhile other topics were raised while waiting for the latest traffic update. From this starting point it grew bigger and bigger with a variety of news, from local news to the national news like the tsunami or the earthquake.

I was first introduced to the term citizen journalism when I browsed around and found a blog created by Moch. Nunung Kurniawan (Iwan). A student seeking a journalism masters degree in the Philippines, he mentioned that his thesis was on citizen journalism, comparing the successful implication of citizen journalism in the radio (Elshinta) to the success of OhmyNews. At that moment I did not bother to look into his thesis, but I did comment that the success of the radio was merely based on mutual benefit taken by its audience.

Then, a friend of mine introduced me to a citizen journalism Web site. I found out that having your article published takes just a moment, compared to the long wait without response from the mainstream media, and having the opportunity to get comments from other readers triggered my motivation to write. I also learned that good and educational news (to my eyes) are not always the most popular articles. The most viewed article is not automatically the one labeled as most useful by readers. Commenting on an incident of an Indonesian singer who threw a remote control to her husband, I wrote an article about managing anger to our benefit. It was really a simple article for me, but it turned out to be the most useful article (viewed by the readers) among all my articles. Another discovery is that a good article might also gain no comment at all!

All of a sudden I understand what Iwan was mentioning in his blog -- the real meaning of citizen journalism. Therefore I browsed English OhmyNews, where I found aout about www.Panyingkul.com. Then afterwards I also found www.kabarindonesia.com and www.halamansatu.net. Reading through all these citizen journalism websites in Indonesian language, I realized that the citizen journalism through the web in Indonesia is just begun. I am not sure about www.halamansatu.net., but the other three websites have not yet reached their first anniversary.

I came back to Iwan's blog and read his thesis, I learned about the different categories of citizen journalism identified by Steve Outing. Wikimu.com in this point of view could be considered as a wiki, where readers are also the editors. Luckily, there are also some professional journalists who join in as contributors so as a contributor who lacked journalistic background, I could learn a lot from their writings and comments. The professional journalist for their part could learn the interests of the citizen through number of visits, points made by readers, and the readers' comments.

I have no time to regularly visit the other Web sites, but it seems to me that all Web sites already have their own loyal readers and contributors, and the readers will soon multiply as it works like multi-level marketing. One reader or contributor will bring other friends along. It is up to the content of the articles that will determine the readers loyalty to this community of press. And of course its continuation will also depend on financial support, but that is something that is still beyond my knowledge.

Youngsters in Indonesia do have a better relation to the Internet. Some elementary school students who don't own a computer go to the "warnet" (internet kiosk) to play interactive games through the Internet. Preschoolers in big cities have already been introduced to using a computer. So soon this rising phenomena will become a real growing fact that should be taken into account by any mainstream media outlets in Indonesia.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Maria Margaretta Vivijanti

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