“News guerrillas” on the rise

Ohmynews and the journalism of the 21st century. Century

In his autobiography, oh yeon ho, founder and director of the korean newspaper ohmynews, describes how sud korea was gripped by a veritable internet fever in 1999. At the time, oh yeon ho was just getting ready to launch his ohmynews. "We were too late in industrialization, so let’s be at the forefront of the digital revolution." these and other slogans, such as: "we will make korea a superpower", disseminated by the government and the media at the time led to the establishment of internet editions of major korean newspapers. "The elitist journalistic culture, sealed off to the outside world, has been transferred to the internet fully intact", means oh.

As for his own background, his technical knowledge at the time, his knowledge of the internet, oh sees himself as a "provincial". For 10 years, since 1989, he worked as a journalist for a korean newspaper published monthly: "meal"; the monthly is owned by a group of dedicated burghers who are "citizens’ coalition for democratic media" named. Oh also offered journalism courses for university students to prepare them for the reporting profession. He titled his lectures with the credo: "every burger is a reporter" ("every citizen is a reporter.").

What oh particularly chafed at was the imbalance of the media landscape in sud korea: eight conservative media houses and two progressive ones, the monthly newspaper "meal" and "hankyoreh". What constitutes news was defined in sud korea at the time by the conservative media societies. A story that appeared in the "meal" was published, was hardly noticed by the other blatters; differently with stories published by the conservative newspapers, that were important news.

Ohmynews and the "386"

Hoping to make the sud korean media landscape a bit more balanced and progressive, he sold his house and put the money into founding the first sud korean internet newspaper, which he "ohmy news" called. Five businessmen from the "386"-the second generation also invested in the foundation (the term "university") "386"-generation refers to the generation that participated in the student movement of the 1980s and helped to overthrow the military dictatorship in sud korea.).

These five businessmen and oh were the first shareholders of ohmynews. Oh asked some webmasters he knew to write a program and by the end of 1999 the beta test version of a new online newspaper was ready. On 21.December 1999 the first ie went online. At the time, ohmynews had four people on its permanent staff and received twenty articles from "citizen reporters". At the time of the official launch date, on 22.02.2002 at 2:22 (p.M.), when the necessary official papers had been signed, there were 727 citizen reporters.

Its goal, oh explains, was to create a new media culture in which "the quality of the news determines whether it wins or loses" – and not the power or prestige of the media company that printed the article. Fortunately for oh’s adventurous venture, he had found in the internet a suitable element for his expedition: it is flexible, malleable, interactive, comprehensive, and supports the collective collaboration of several like-minded people (cf. "Dawn of the internet and netizen").

Every burger is a reporter

These qualities of the internet helped him establish an online publication that three years later, in october 2003, made it to number six on the list of the most influential korean media. In the same year ohmynews made its first profit. As jean min, the head of the international edition of ohmynews, explains, today 70% of revenues come from advertising and 30% from the sale of news content and from other sources. The hope of the ohmynews people is that this will change to a more stable 50/50 mix in the future.

Currently, the core of the ohmynews staff consists of full-time employees. But there are also columnists, international correspondents and freelance reporters. A total of 75 employees (45 reporters, including 12 editors) are part of the permanent staff. According to jean min’s treasure trove, there were currently 39.000 freelancers "citizen reporters" give. How he came to the concept of "burgerreporters" explains oh as follows:

Every burger is a reporter. Journalists are not an exotic species; anyone who tracks new developments, describes them and thus shares them with others is a journalist. This goes without saying, but this self-understanding has been counteracted by a culture that conceives of the reporter as someone who enjoys certain privileges. These reporters, endowed with privileges, form a news network with raw power that starts from the production of the news and extends to its dissemination and reception. The gravity of the problem now lies in the fact that the massive media power is, in a sense, the drainage ditch of korean capitalist society. There is a lot of dirt in this media and yet they have managed to present themselves as clean and righteous to the rest of society. That is why we stand up against it and hold high our flag of guerrilla warfare. Our weapon is the fundamental thesis that every citizen is a journalist. We intend to arrest a "alliance for news of news guerrillas" to form.

The revolt of 727 news guerrillas: a revolution in news production and consumption".

What he wrote under "guerrilla"-warfare is understood more precisely, explains oh so:

In the dictionary one finds guerrilla defined as "a member of a small non-regular armed force that supports the enemy’s security positions. Citizen reporters resp. Burger reporters can appropriately be called guerrillas because they put news out into the world from a unique perspective that runs counter to that of the conservative establishment.

Some of the citizen reporters write only occasionally, others regularly. Every day between 200 and 250 articles reach the editorial office, about 70% of which are published, according to oh. The website is updated daily, sometimes several times a day. The editorial staff decides whether to publish them on the front page or in one of the various sections ("sections") appear. The articles that appear on the main page, or at least on the main page in the index of the list of new articles, are sure to receive more attention. There is also a weekly list of the most read articles. In addition, some of the articles previously published online appear in the print edition.

Creating a better world

If an article by a citizen reporter is taken, the author earns depending on the placement of the article: the equivalent of about 160 euros for a top placement and only about 16 euros if the article appears somewhere in the online edition. It is little money. When asked why they sell their articles to ohmynews when they get paid so little, citizen reporters replied that they were doing their part to create a better world.

The selection criteria for an article are, according to oh once, the topicality, "the sympathy that the article could arouse, how lively it was, and how great the social impact it would have". According to an academic who researches blogs, bloggers in south korea believe that blogs have less influence there because many potential bloggers prefer to work as citizen reporters for ohmynews.

On 22.February this year, ohmynews celebrated its fifth birthday. For oh, the first five years were the first stage in the development of a young newspaper. One of the goals was to gain standing as a serious newspaper in sud korea. This goal was achieved by scrutinizing and criticizing the activities of the major corporate alliances and the big media. Coarse and important sudanese events, such as roh moo-hyun’s presidential campaign and his campaign against his "impeachment" was reported as well as candidates and people with less power and influence. Another goal of the first years of ohmynews was to spread the ohmynews model around the world.

The english edition of ohmynews

As ohmynews was noticed by many major international newspapers and requests came in from many different countries wanting to know how a similar model could be created, on 27 may 2004 an ad was published. In may 2004, an english edition of ohmynews was launched, which has since been regularly published and supplied with articles by burger reporters from all over the world.

According to oh, this was the second stage of development. The goal now is, "to go beyond criticism of the existing social establishment and propose alternatives for a new society". In order to achieve this goal, ohmynews will rely on its permanent reporters. If you consider the influence a newspaper can have, oh says, it is necessary to exercise that influence in a responsible way. Another goal of the second stage is the further development of multimedia activities; for example, they are working on an internet tv program. However, as this requires substantial financial resources, the realization of this goal will take some time. Although he is proud of his international edition, oh does not see himself as a competitor to major international newspapers such as the new york times or the washington post.

Instead, he hopes that the concept and vision of ohmynews will spread, so that other countries will have models of ohmynews tailored to their specific needs. "In each country there are special and unique conditions that must be taken into account, if there are enough ohmynews versions in other countries, we could form an alliance to exchange articles and help each other."

There is the "online user" in sud korea, who want to expand democracy there and who call themselves "netizen" cite. Many of the netizens have contributed to ohmynews, and in turn the newspaper has helped them realize important achievements in the current democratization of sud korea. Thus, z.B. Two months after the birth of ohmynews, four reporters were assigned to cover the blacklist campaign, which was launched to prevent corrupt and incompetent politicians from being re-elected in the 2000 election.

Even more significant in this context was the campaign launched by netizens the campaign was set in motion to support roh moo-hyun – not exactly a politician in the korean political mainstream – in his campaign for the december 2002 presidential election. Ohmynews also played a significant role in the campaign. In the spring of 2004, netizens and ohmynews opposed roh’s impeachment by organizing large-scale light-chain demonstrations in which many thousands of people participated.

More than just a dream

Among the problems ohmynews is facing is the frustration of some of the citizen reporter, which stems from poor communication and understanding with the regular permanent staff. Some burger reporters also complain about lack of payment morale.

When i was in seoul recently, i asked people if they knew and read ohmynews. Many knew ohmynews and some said they would read it. In conversations, i heard that ohmynews was too sympathetic to the current president, roh moo-hyun, for some. Others praised ohmynews as one of the few progressive publications in sud korea.

Last june, ohmynews held an international forum in seoul, inviting citizen reporters from all parts of sud korea and around the world. It was a significant gathering for a media company that is only five years old. Ohmynews’ daily online presence in korean and english is a continuing demonstration of oh’s commitment to creating 21st century journalism.In the twenty-first century, for the "interactive" and "participatory" are not endorsers from a distant dream.

How the development and spread of the internet will affect the future of journalism remains to be seen. In south korea, ohmynews and the netizen has already shown that there is another form of journalism that will compete for future forms. In addition, they have made it clear that the impact this new form of journalism can have on politics should not be underestimated.

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