Oh Yeon Ho knows the power of independent media. His Seoul-based Web site, OhmyNews, lets regular folks write about whatever they want. In 2002 that included big doses of news about presidential candidate Roh Moo Hyun -- at a time when Korea's leading papers brushed aside the dark horse as a dangerous leftist. On Election Day, as the citizen journalists of OhmyNews reported that Roh appeared to be trailing, young readers dispatched a flurry of text messages urging friends to go to the polls, helping Roh squeak to victory. "Citizen reporters beat traditional media," recalls Oh.
Little wonder that OhmyNews has become one of Korea's most influential media outlets -- and has inspired dozens of imitators around the globe. The site boasts 95 full-time staffers and nearly 42,000 citizen contributors, who together produce about 160 articles a day.
Now Oh is taking his citizen journalism effort overseas. In August, OhmyNews is due to start a Japanese-language version, run in cooperation with Softbank Corp. And since last July, OhmyNews has been churning out news in English, produced by 850 citizen reporters from 85 countries plus eight professional editors.
Repeating the splash OhmyNews achieved in Korea won't be easy. Young Koreans have a deep distrust of newspapers -- which tend to represent the conservative establishment -- whereas Japanese media are much more diverse. And the explosion of blogging worldwide will probably make a dedicated citizen news site less attractive. "When OhmyNews got started, few people had blogs," notes Tsuruaki Yukawa, member of the editorial board at Japan's Jiji Press.
Still, Oh is confident his service will offer something unique. Blogs, he says, don't have the credibility of OhmyNews, where professionals edit and fact-check stories from nonstaffers to filter out inaccuracies and potentially libelous claims. And it presents perspectives that conventional news outlets ignore, covering, for instance, the discontent in Nepal several months before Western newspapers did. "Citizen reporters excel when they write on subjects they know well," says Hong Eun Taek, editor-in-chief of the English-language service.
By Moon Ihlwan, with Kenji Hall