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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March 12, 2000

Yahoo-Murdoch: A marriage made in hell

Yahoo News’ possible partnership with the News Corp. could jeopardize its credibility

This column appeared March 12, 2000, in the Online Journalism Review.  Here’s the version on the OJR site.

By J.D. Lasica

Word comes that Yahoo and the News Corp., Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, are thinking of hopping into bed.

The announcement, revealed in the March 6 New Yorker, was treated by the tech and business press as just another in a series of possible strategic alliances between corporate titans.

Under the proposed broad partnership, News Corp. — now practically invisible in the online space — would get access to the Web’s biggest platform of all. Yahoo, trying to counter America Online’s pending merger with Time-Warner, would get access to News Corp.’s assets, including 20th Century Fox studios (remember a little flick called “Titanic”?), Fox broadcasting, HarperCollins, the Los Angeles Dodgers, newspapers, 15 TV stations and other holdings. Fox’s satellite networks, which deliver Internet services to consumers, would also be part of the mix.

From a business standpoint, the proposal makes a certain amount of sense.

From a journalistic viewpoint, it bodes something else: a marriage made in hell.

Yahoo News, the largest headline news service on the Web, is a class act — and a rare act in cyberspace. The ultimate news portal, Yahoo News puts news judgment and reader interests ahead of financial considerations. Second-tier news organizations can’t buy their way into the Yahoo News network of two dozen news providers. And tabloid news reports won’t find a mention in its news, politics or crime sections.

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February 2, 1998

Marvin Kalb on journalism in the Internet age

The former CBS and NBC News correspondent decries the news media’s feeding frenzy over Clinton-Lewinsky — and the effect that Matt Drudge has had on news coverage

“Editors, anchors, producers and news executives can summon up the courage to say no to stories without proper credentials and sources.”

By J.D. Lasica

Marvin Kalb is director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He spoke by phone on Feb. 2, 1998, about 12 days after the White House sex scandal broke with a fury in the media.

How do you see the impact of the Internet and all the new forms of media on coverage of the Clinton-Lewinsky story.

In the last year or two, the Internet has come on very strong, with a kind of compelling presence. More and more people are now dependent on the Internet for mass communication, even for narrow-banded communication, from one university to another, and across oceans. It’s become extremely convenient and it’s becoming more and more a part of the lives of an expanding elite.

I imagine in a year or two or three, the number of people using the Internet will grow dramatically. In this particular case, the very fact that Newsweek chose not to run with a story that then somehow found itself in Matt Drudge’s clutches, and he put it out on his Web page, and many reporters now find themselves looking at his Web page because the controversy itself obliges reporters to check it out, and lo and behold they find this information and have to decide what to do with it. He has no inhibition about posting the information because he doesn’t care about its accuracy, only about its attractiveness. And suddenly within 48 hours it becomes a major news story in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.

That strikes me as a new and graphic power of the Internet to influence mainstream journalism. And I suspect that over the next couple of years that impact will grow to the point where it will damage journalism’s ability to do its job professionally, to check out information before publication, to be mindful of the necessity to publish and broadcast reliable, substantiated information. Those traditional impulses have already been damaged, and I fear that will only grow.

Michael Kinsley in this week’s Time magazine defended Drudge and said that it would be impossible for publications like the Washington Post to maintain a firewall that prevents this sort of information from seeping into the mainstream media. It seems you’re saying the same thing, that it’s almost impossible to maintain that firewall. Why?

The report we’re talking about has served as a match thrown into a barrel of gasoline. It served to ignite unreliable, unsubstantiated, gossipy information. The journalistic environment today is affected in a number of ways by the expanding new technologies and the new economic underpinnings — news organizations being owned by giant corporations where news is simply a commodity to be sold like any other products. And this new combination has led to a collapsing of journalistic standards of behavior.

The need to be competitive and to be mindful of the bottom line is so overwhelming that it becomes almost impossible for editors to say no. They’re now driven by such pressures that when they see the information is already out there in the mainstream press, they feel they have to go with it, even though, deep in their guts, they know it’s wrong.

I’ve spent the last two weeks thinking about the Lewinsky story nonstop, and I just wrote an op-ed piece for Newsday, and I’ve been wrestling with the question, Does that mean there’s no way out? I hope the editors prove all the skeptics and critics wrong, and that they can summon up the courage to say no to stories based on rumors and hearsay and innuendo, but I don’t think it will be done. I’m extremely pessimistic.

If you were running one of those major papers, what would you do? What prescriptions do you suggest to the mainstream press?

Let me read to you from the conclusion of my essay:

Can journalism resist the tide? Or is it too late? My analysis suggests that it may be too late, but journalists still have the power to improve their performance and prove the critics wrong. How?

Editors, anchors, producers and news executives can summon up the courage to say no to stories without proper credentials and sources. They can decide to publish or broadcast no fact simply because it’s “out there.” They can reverse James Baker’s sarcastic description of press practices: “report first, check later.” They can end the use of hidden cameras. They can remember that along with press freedom comes press responsibility.

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