Citizen Reporters in South Korea Seek Fame, Tips

By Carol Walker
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – The nexus of journalism and blogging is why some 5 million readers, mostly young and progressive, visit OhmyNews, South Korea’s widely respected Internet news source founded in 2000 by a small group of journalists and current OhmyNews president and editor Oh Yeon Ho.

OhmyNews is one of the most popular online news sources on the Internet,” Robert W. Ogburn, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, told the Washington File.

“What makes OhmyNews unique is that 90 percent of the stories come from OhmyNews’ 40,000 ‘guerilla reporters,’ citizens who submit stories for as little as $2 per story,” Ogburn said.  “Top stories garner $20.”

Who are these guerilla reporters? Most contributors who write essays on everyday life and political columns along with news stories for OhmyNews are regular people with something to say. Yet Ogburn said many are journalists for mainstream dailies who submit stories their own papers will not publish or submit different versions of their stories to OhmyNews. Some use their names, Ogburn said, some do not.

“Our main concept is every citizen can be a reporter,” said Oh in a March interview with Wired magazine. “We put everything out there, and people judge the truth for themselves.”

“Instant fame” is one reason people contribute articles to OhmyNews, said Jean K. Min, OhmyNews international editor, at a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, on April 20 reported in New Media Trends. Another one is money: Although OhMyNews may not pay big money for stories, readers can donate money to favorite writers, Min said. One writer received $5,000, he said.

According to briefing materials provided by Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society at a conference in December 2004, OhmyNews started a “tipping service” in 2004 that enables readers to reward writers for good reporting. In two days, Kim Young-ok, a philosophy lecturer, earned about $22,000, roughly the average annual salary in South Korea, when more than 4,500 people tipped him for his reports on plans to move the South Korea capital out of Seoul.

“Citizen journalism is a growing phenomenon,” writes OhmyNews contributor Ronda Hauben. “For many who care about producing or reading the news, it is a welcome phenomenon.” (See related article.)

Full-time staff at OhmyNews includes about 70 editors who work on 200 news stories a day, Ogburn said. The site has low overhead, Ogburn said, because fees to contributors are low. Advertising revenue comes from SK Corporation and Daewoo.

OhmyNews has figured out a way to expand its reach beyond South Korea, recognizing the global interest in using citizen journalists to report around the world: Its South Korean site displays mostly Korean news and the English-language international version presents mostly world news.

Additional information about OhmyNews is available on its Web site.

For additional information see Press Freedom.