Oh Yeon-Ho firmly believes in the slogan that hangs over the door of his office: “Every citizen is a reporter.”
It’s a motto that has driven him to create one of the world’s biggest and most influential “citizen journalism” websites, OhmyNews.com, and to build an army of amateur reporters tens of thousands strong.
“Every citizen is a reporter´ is no longer a slogan but a reality,” Oh Yeon-Ho said in a recent interview at his Seoul office.When he founded his web page in February 2000 as one of the world’s first outlets for “citizen journalism,” he had only four staff.
Now his 50,000 reporters are backed by 80 staff and churn out hundreds of stories in South Korea. Another 3,000 reporters are registered in Japan, plus 2,500 elsewhere, he said.
“They come from virtually all walks of society,” Oh says of his contributors. “Schoolkids, housewives, policemen, novelists, doctors and even politicians.”
OhmyNews is now regarded as South Korea’s most influential news website, competing with conventional media outlets and helping change the concept of journalism not just in South Korea but across the world.
“The citizen journalism pioneered by OhmyNews in South Korea is changing the paradigm of mass communications where media outlets unilaterally set what the news is and feed it to the general public,” said Kim Byoung-Cheol, a journalism professor at Cyber University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.
“Now, citizens are both the producers and the consumers of the news. The era of elite journalists monopolising the news is over. Citizen journalism is not a transient phenomenon but a big global trend in line with the blooming democratisation,” he said.Oh couldn’t agree more, and says his confidence is backed up by the numbers.
If a story becomes really big, up to two million people a day will log onto the site, up from the normal daily traffic of 500,000 to one million hits, Oh said.Amateur journalists produce up to 200 stories each day for OhmyNews, some 80% of the total, and even though they receive relatively little money for their work -- up to 20,000 won (about $20) per article -- the stories keep pouring in.
“It is meagre pay. But it fits in with my way of living a consume-less life,” said Song Seong-Yong, an organic farmer who has contributed around 200 human interest stories to OhmyNews since late 2002.
“OhmyNews is a channel for me to engage in social issues from the remote countryside,” said Song.
OhmyNews owes its success partly to the government’s decision to install an extensive Internet system throughout the country, giving around 70% of South Koreans access to broadband as more and more people are receiving their news online.“It is crucial that you can get access to the Internet whenever you want and wherever you go,” Oh said.
OhmyNews posted a loss for the first three years before making a profit up until 2005, Oh said. He had no figures for 2006 but expected to record a deficit for that year due to investment spending.
Oh did not give exact profit figures but said average annual revenue was six billion won ($6.35 million), 70% of it from advertising.