I spent yesterday afternoon in good company, both with my NIDA hosts
and before then at the world headquarters of Ohmynews. What a
story that is.
On two floors of an office building downtown in
Seoul — a bit hard to find, tucked away in an office building in the heart of the city — Ohmynews looks
like a cross between a start-up, an NGO, and a newsroom. My
guide, Todd Thacker, gave me the chef’s tour, including a peek at their
home-grown software (they are a good candidate to become huge users of
RSS, by the way).
Mr. Oh, the founder and CEO, was gracious, quick-witted, and outfitted
in a bright-yellow Ohmynews polo shirt. He was spending the day
interviewing for their first news anchor position for the TV arm of his growing
Oh started Ohmynews
with the idea that is “Every citizen is a reporter.” He and his
managed to turn profitable this year, or so they say, on a model that
relies upon the story submissiosn of thousands of Koreans citizen
reporters. Writers are paid once the stories run, supplementing
the work of editors and a staff of 36 reporters.
Nearly everyone I’ve asked says that Korean President Roh would never have been elected but
for Ohmynews; and the same people will tell you that Roh avoided
impeachment thanks, once again, to Ohmynews.
Today, Ohmynews is “a full-fledged multimedia news service in action,”
with both Korean and international operations. They are
aggressively recruiting international citizen reporters, particularly
from among the best of the blogosphere. Their field operatives
are wi-fi enabled and able to do live web-casting. Ohmynews is concurrently firing up
an digital TV arm. It’s incredibly energizing to see it in action.
Ohmynews faces extensive hurdles (Do enough people trust it?
a clearly-partisan news organization survive for long? Will
citizen reporters work for peanuts when the buzz dies down? Can
they stay profitable on a shoestring budget?), but a bright future if
they can clear them. One of the most intriguing bits of the story
is their answer to the thorniest of these questions: check out the
Citizen Reporter agreement and code of ethics. (How many bloggers do you know who would agree to such a code?)
There is no question but that Ohmynews is a
huge force in South Korean news, politics, and internet culture
today. I’m particularly excited that Mr. Oh will be coming to
Cambridge, MA, as a keynoter at our upcoming Internet & Society
conference in December. There’s a possibility that Ohmynews
emerge as a global newsforce, too, if Jean and Todd and their team are
successful in porting the model to the international stage. My
guess is that their success will quickly breed copycats. And that
it will be a good thing.