January 28, 2007

OhmyNews: ‘Every citizen can be a reporter’

The OhmyNews newsroom in Seoul, July 2006. (Photo by J.D. Lasica)


A tour inside the newsroom of the pioneering citizen journalism publication

Following is a Q&A with Jean K. Min, communications director of OhmyNews International, the trail-blazing citizen journalism publication in Seoul, South Korea. The exchange — with questions put to him by myself and Matthew Lee of the Center for Citizen Media — took place in January 2007.

Please tell us about OhmyNews. How did the site get started, and what are its goals?

As a former journalist of a minority liberal magazine named Mahl since 1988, Oh Yeon-ho, the founder and CEO of OhmyNews, had faced repeated rejections while trying to access major news sources. Doors were shut and questions were unanswered.

As a taxpayer, he felt it was his natural right to demand government agencies to grant access to the vast reserve of public information. That was when the idea that “every citizen is a reporter” came up to him. The idea stayed with him for several years until he began his journalism study at Regent University in the United States.
During his graduate study at Regent University, one of his professors asked the class to draft a paper plan on an imaginary new media start-up. He drafted a detailed launching plan of an online news media, building its business model upon his long-dreamed idea that “every citizen is a reporter.”

After coming back to Korea in 1997, he began to persuade some angel investors with his business plan and eventually quit his job at Mahl. With the initial funds raised from these investors and an additional sum from his own personal coffers, he launched OhmyNews in February 2000. The rest of story is now history.

What sets OhmyNews apart from traditional media outlets such as the South China Morning Post?

In his memoir recently published in Korea, Oh has written of his original vision that he “wanted to start a tradition free of newspaper company elitism where news was evaluated based on quality, regardless of whether it came from a major newspaper, a local reporter, an educated journalist or a neighborhood housewife. … So I decided to make the plunge into the sea of the Internet, even though I feared that which was different from what I was accustomed.”

The Internet allows people to have two way communications and Oh wanted to make the most out of this new medium. Oh explains the difference of OhmyNews model as opposed to that of traditional media as such:

“Every citizen can be a reporter. Journalists aren’t some exotic species, they’re everyone who seeks to take new developments, put them into writing, and share them with others.”

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