Citizen reporter

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 July, 2005, 12:00am

Kim Hye-won is a fairly typical South Korean housewife, spending much of her day tending to the needs of her husband and two sons. But in her spare time, she transforms herself into a self-professed 'news guerilla'. Ms Kim works for a South Korean internet news service, Ohmynews, which in five short years has shaken the foundations of the country's media scene. The service is the brainchild of Oh Yeon-ho, who, with a staff of four, launched an internet newspaper based on the concept that every citizen is a reporter. His vision coincided with the surge in broadband use in one of Asia's most tech-savvy countries.

Ohmynews now boasts 38,000 'citizen reporters', and gets over 2 million hits daily on its website. Ask any young South Korean where they get their news, and the site is mentioned with relentless regularity.

The citizen reporters write on anything from politics and the economy to the arts. Ms Kim's contributions usually centre on her daily life and preoccupations as a mother, wife and ordinary citizen. Her article debating whether South Korean adults had the right to upbraid students caught kissing in the country's popular public saunas attracted 60,000 hits. It ignited a fierce debate between young and older web users.

Ohmynews' popularity has forced authorities to sit up and pay attention, as Ms Kim discovered while researching a story on wife-beating in the country. She nervously telephoned the police for background information, fully expecting to be brushed off as a bored housewife. 'But when they found out I was from Ohmynews, they were very kind and spent a long time talking to me. The person I spoke to even recognised my name from my articles on the web,' she said.

Ohmynews has upset the traditional model of established news providers, according to Jean Min, international editor with the news service. 'They say 'we will produce the news and you consume it'. We say 'Let's produce and consume it together, and also let's have fun doing it'.'

Critics of Ohmynews accuse it of variable quality and a failure to be objective, but nevertheless, the nation's traditional media outlets have been forced to respond - adding space for reader responses on their websites.

Another innovation introduced by the news provider is a system allowing readers to tip a maximum of US$10 for any article they like. One article, by a philosophy professor, collected around US$30,000 from sympathetic readers. Ms Kim has earned around US$3,000 for her articles over the past three years. She spent part of the proceeds on a new camera, and her next plan is to upload photos to accompany her stories.


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