When South Korean journalist Oh Yeon-ho launched Ohmynews.com in February 2000, nobody believed an online newspaper driven by ‘citizen journalists’ would last for more than a few months. However, not only did it survive braving the challenge of the infamous dot-com bust but eventually emerged as one of the most successful New Media projects employing more than 60,000 citizen reporters contributing in Korean, Japanese and English languages from across the globe. Most of the content used by ohmynews.com is generated, edited and published by appropriately paid Internet surfers who take pride in reporting the events in their neighborhoods before anyone else does. Today, the online newspaper whose motto is ‘Every Citizen is a Reporter’ is no less successful than the frontline Korean newspapers and television channels in terms of popularity and effectiveness, and is even profitable.
In the years since ohmynews.com happened, citizen journalism has come a long way to become one of the hottest buzzwords in the business of News. What exactly is citizen journalism? Citizen journalism takes place when ordinary citizens, without any kind of formal training in journalism, use modern day technologies to generate and contribute their own newsworthy content to new media platforms for global distribution through Internet.
Addendum: ohmynews.com initially experimented with English language but stopped publishing the English news portal in 2010. Its Korean version, however, is going full steem.
Contrary to general belief however, citizen journalism is not limited to news websites or news portals and must be seen in a wider perspective. It is citizen journalism if you take a picture of a policeman taking bribe from an erring motorist and post it on Flickr. The smooching video of two unsuspecting film stars shot by an anonymous customer using a mobile phone camera at a Mumbai restaurant and subsequently broadcast on a major news channel will also be termed citizen journalism, even if it generates a debate on the blatant intrusion of individual privacy. Similarly, war accounts written by the famous Baghdad based blogger ‘Salam Pax’ during the Iraq war and reporting by citizens during the Mumbai floods, the tsunami tragedy, the London train bombings, the Hurricane Catrina, and the Virginia Tech massacre are glorious examples of successful and effective citizen journalism. People who were witness to these events came forward with their eyewitness accounts, photographs and videos to provide first hand and precise information regarding these incidents. Such content was otherwise out of bounds for traditional forms of journalism. As Mark Glaser puts it, “the audience knows more collectively than the reporter alone.”
Also known as grassroots journalism, crowd-sourcing, unfiltered journalism, indymedia, community news, we media, open source journalism, folk journalism, personal media and bottom-up journalism, citizen journalism is attracting attention of individual web entrepreneurs as well as Internet companies and media houses for various reasons.
Yet another success story
After the huge success of the communication, information and e-commerce models, Internet is clearly passing through another revolutionary phase of its life in the form of social networking and social media. In this age of YouTube, Flickr, Orkut and Linkedin, user generated content is what every web publisher has gotten interested in and what makes sound business sense these days. Citizen journalism is almost free, supplements and enriches original content on offer; immensely expands the organisation’s area of presence and reach; enables coverage of real issues affecting local populations that go largely unreported by mainstream media; generates groups of new, loyal readers of grassroots content due to its local nature; strengthens the proverbial bond between publishers and readers by opening an informal channel of communication between them and sometimes also gives a social identity to the news organizations concerned.
True, user generated content has its limitations especially in terms of quality, substance, accuracy and credibility but organizations are learning to deal with the issue by channelising such content through layers of experienced editors and presenters as benefits far outweigh constraints.
Even after making payments to its army of citizen contributors, Ohmynews.com made handsome profits of US$ 400,000 in 2004, mostly from advertising. The online newspaper originally launched as a Korean language venture was eventually expanded to offer English and Japanese versions as well. Ohmynews.com is not the only success story. Nowpublic.com, Newassignment.net, Wikinews, Baristanet.com, Newsvine.com and Ourmedia.org are writing their own success stories in the cyberspace.
BlufftonToday.com, a citizen journalism driven website, utilizes content submitted by citizen reporters in its 32 page print edition distributed free in the small town of Bluffton, South Carolina. More than 60% of the city’s population is regular reader of the print edition and at least one person in half the city’s households is registered with the web version. Rising popularity of the venture also reflects in its healthy financial figures.
The second outlet, farther out on the cutting-edge, is BostonNOW, which will debut on April 17. It will rank as greater Boston's second, free local paper (after Metro Boston) and plans to drive the medium forward by running copy generated by local bloggers. This copy will appear as 150-200-word blurbs in the print edition, and full-length online.
It is not without a reason that international television news channel of CNN’s repute could not resist the temptation of testing waters in this space. The Time Warner group company introduced ‘I-Report’, a section which allows people from around the world to contribute text, images and videos of breaking news stories. Success of the initiative inspired other television channels such as ABC (i-Caught), Fox (uReport) and MSNBC (FirstPerson) to come out with similar projects. A CNN programme ‘News To Me’ telecasts best viewer contributions received through the I-Report service. The BBC hosts iCan, a website designed to help people across the UK to take action on issues that matter to them.
News agency AP is in alliance with NowPublic.com to take advantage of news, photos and video contributed by NowPublic.com’s 60,000 registered citizen journalists. The initiative is designed to bring citizen content into AP newsgathering, and to explore ways to involve NowPublic’s on-the-ground network of news contributors in AP’s breaking news coverage.” If you remember, Reuters and Yahoo had come together in December 2006 to launch an online news contribution system ‘You Witness News’ allowing aspiring citizen journalists to submit news, photos and video. Reuters selects, edits and distributes such material to Yahoo News and other news outlets and pays to the contributing journalists for content used by the agency’s subscribers.