Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Future of the Newspaper

Korean online newspaper enlists army of 'citizen reporters' Multitudes log on daily to read and respond to stories - Vanessa Hua, Chronicle Staff WriterSunday, September 18, 2005

Seoul -- The staff at OhmyNews fills only two floors of a small office building in downtown Seoul, but it edits stories from thousands of "citizen reporters" across South Korea.

The 150 or so stories posted on the site each day range from breaking news about huge protests to sophisticated political analysis, from hit pieces to tales of the daily ups and downs of people who feel ignored by established media.

OhmyNews readers can offer instant feedback online and -- if they really like a piece -- monetary tips. Readers poured nearly 30 million won ($30,000) into columnist Kim Young Ok's account in increments of $10 or less in one week after he criticized the constitutional court of South Korea last year.

"They're like street musicians or performers," Jean Min, director of the international news division, said of the citizen reporters.

OhmyNews is much more than a soapbox, though. It is a cross between an online news site and a sophisticated blog. Koreans flock to it. The site gets 1.7 million to 2 million page views each day, a number that shot up to 25 million during the December 2002 presidential election.

When reformer Roh Moo Hyun won the tight presidential race, he granted his first domestic interview to OhmyNews -- a slap to the conservative corporate daily papers that supported his rival.

The privately held Web site has been profitable since September 2003 and is projected to pull in $10 million this year, Min said. By contrast, in San Francisco pulled in $6.6 million in fiscal year 2005 and had 1.1 million average daily page views in July, according to market research firm comScore Media Metrix. The DailyKos, a popular liberal blog written in Berkeley, had 96,774 average daily page views, and conservative blog Instapundit had 32,258 in July.

The success of OhmyNews can be attributed in part to the high level of public engagement in this heavily wired, young democracy, where less than two decades have passed since military rule ended. Street protests are common, and citizens are eager to speak out online.

With the motto "every citizen is a reporter," 5-year-old OhmyNews has engaged its audience in ways that U.S. print and television news outlets, faced with a steep decline in readers and viewers, only dream of.

The site has a cultlike following, among both writers thrilled to see their views spread widely and readers who say they like getting an uncensored, if uneven, version of the news.

"It is composed of so many citizens. It's more free than other journals," said Kim Won Joong, 24, a journalism student at Chunnam University in Daejeon, in central South Korea. "But the opinions are scattered all over."

The site began an English-language edition in May, at, and now has its sights set overseas. Several hundred citizen reporters have already signed up. So far, about 36 percent of English-language edition readers are from North America, 38.5 percent from Europe, and 16.7 percent from Asia outside South Korea.

For publicity, the company relies on stories in other media, word-of-mouth and the efforts of its reporters, many of whom are active bloggers, Min said.

"Our readers don't simply sit there and read. They interrogate each other," Min said during a slick hourlong presentation at the company's headquarters. One of his charts called OhmyNews a "post-modern 'we media' versus traditional 'elite media.' "

"People want to share their experience. It's more fun than simply watching television," Min said.

Min and founder Oh Yeon Ho, a former alternative magazine editor and reporter, have traveled to Europe, Japan and North America for the past two years to talk about citizen journalism and OhmyNews' business model.

"So here we hoist our flag and declare war on the old media system. ... We are overthrowing the basic principles of news reporting, which for many years has been taken for granted by many of the world's newspapers," declares one of the company's brochures.

Similar to newspapers, about 70 percent of OhmyNews' revenue is from ad sales. But instead of the remainder going to subscriptions, as at newspapers, Min said OhmyNews gets 20 percent of its revenue from syndication sales, and just 10 percent from paid subscriptions for premium content.

In South Korea, OhmyNews has fast gained prominence and popularity, though critics say its reporting can be biased.

OhmyNews uses emotional appeals rather than acting as a neutral forum for citizens, media observers say. Last year, the site began a reader drive to help fund the production of an encyclopedia of people who collaborated with the Japanese under colonial rule, after a columnist suggested the fundraising.

During huge protests against the impeachment of President Roh last year, 38 OhmyNews reporters fanned out into the streets and sent in photos, video and copy by various wireless connections.

The professional staff of 54 copy editors, editors and reporters -- which OhmyNews calls its "news guerrilla desk" -- reject about one-third of submissions. They fact-check and vet everything they post. For example, OhmyNews contacted Samsung for comment before publishing a Samsung worker's expose of how employees were forced to spend months of company time planning the vacation to Germany of the electronics company's chairman, Lee Kun Hee. It even considered sending a staff reporter to Berlin.

Just four lawsuits have been filed against OhmyNews over articles written by its staff reporters. None of the disputes has been resolved.
Citizen reporters receive $2 to $20 for each story OhmyNews uses, based on its merit. About 76 percent of the citizen reporters are men. Twenty percent are college students, 6 percent are small business owners, and 73 percent are 20 to 39 years old.

Min said reader response helps OhmyNews reporters improve over time. More than 70 staff and citizen reporters have landed book deals since the site opened, he said.

Writer Kim Hye Won thanked her online critics for making her a better writer, even though she considered quitting after reading their harsh comments.

"I feel my limitations ... compared to professional reporters who specialize in particular areas or have accumulated tons of experience. I heard that my articles lack breadth and depth," she said in a speech at a conference of citizen reporters in June sponsored by OhmyNews.

Harry Lee, an editor in chief of Korea Press International, an independent news service in Washington, D.C., who freelances for the English-language edition of OhmyNews, describes the site as the "Hyde Park of journalism."

"(It's) a forum where all kinds of people with all kinds of ideas and ideologies participate in all kinds of subjects."

This story has been corrected since it appeared in print editions.

E-mail Vanessa Hua at


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At September 27, 2005 9:40 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

The problem is that traditional news gathering and propagation techniques of mass media make distortions, exaggerations, manipulations and deceptions more likely than with authentic personal communications. The impersonality creates these opportunities for exploitation. The mass media fosters the notion that anonymity enables freedom and integrity of information -- in claiming that unless people are granted anonymity, they cannot tell the truth for fear of reprisals. But that allows unscrupulous people who “work” the media, their opportunity to spread misinformation and disinformation without consequences -- which is a liability that far outweighs any gain from such anonymity.

In fact, not allowing anonymity guarantees responsibility, accountability and the integrity of information. Most citizens really have a sincere desire to be truthful and helpful to their fellow citizens. Those who work the media (especially the unions, political parties, and other self-serving lobbyists), have no such intentions. However, their efforts are directed almost exclusively to the mass media, knowing that they are the weak link in the information ecosystem. Most “professional” journalists are interested in their own career advancement rather than the community well-being. They will sell everybody else out for their advancement -- even encouragining the divisiveness, arguments, conflicts and hatreds of one group against another -- as legitimate controversies.

Some people just "get off" on seeing and setting up people to attack one another as their perverse entertainment and power trip. And so a better media was required and came into being.,0,5492806,full.story?coll=la-home-headlines

September 27, 2005
Katrina Takes a Toll on Truth, News Accuracy
Rumors supplanted accurate information and media magnified the problem. Rapes, violence and estimates of the dead were wrong.

By Susannah Rosenblatt and James Rainey, Times Staff Writers

BATON ROUGE, La. — Maj. Ed Bush recalled how he stood in the bed of a pickup truck in the days after Hurricane Katrina, struggling to help the crowd outside the Louisiana Superdome separate fact from fiction. Armed only with a megaphone and scant information, he might have been shouting into, well, a hurricane.

The National Guard spokesman's accounts about rescue efforts, water supplies and first aid all but disappeared amid the roar of a 24-hour rumor mill at New Orleans' main evacuation shelter. Then a frenzied media recycled and amplified many of the unverified reports.

"It just morphed into this mythical place where the most unthinkable deeds were being done," Bush said Monday of the Superdome.

His assessment is one of several in recent days to conclude that newspapers and television exaggerated criminal behavior in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, particularly at the overcrowded Superdome and Convention Center.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Monday described inflated body counts, unverified "rapes," and unconfirmed sniper attacks as among examples of "scores of myths about the dome and Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans' top officials."

Indeed, Mayor C. Ray Nagin told a national television audience on "Oprah" three weeks ago of people "in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people."

Journalists and officials who have reviewed the Katrina disaster blamed the inaccurate reporting in large measure on the breakdown of telephone service, which prevented dissemination of accurate reports to those most in need of the information. Race may have also played a factor.

The wild rumors filled the vacuum and seemed to gain credence with each retelling — that an infant's body had been found in a trash can, that sharks from Lake Pontchartrain were swimming through the business district, that hundreds of bodies had been stacked in the Superdome basement.

"It doesn't take anything to start a rumor around here," Louisiana National Guard 2nd Lt. Lance Cagnolatti said at the height of the Superdome relief effort. "There's 20,000 people in here. Think when you were in high school. You whisper something in someone's ear. By the end of the day, everyone in school knows the rumor — and the rumor isn't the same thing it was when you started it."

Follow-up reporting has discredited reports of a 7-year-old being raped and murdered at the Superdome, roving bands of armed gang members attacking the helpless, and dozens of bodies being shoved into a freezer at the Convention Center.

Hyperbolic reporting spread through much of the media.

Fox News, a day before the major evacuation of the Superdome began, issued an "alert" as talk show host Alan Colmes reiterated reports of "robberies, rapes, carjackings, riots and murder. Violent gangs are roaming the streets at night, hidden by the cover of darkness."

The Los Angeles Times adopted a breathless tone the next day in its lead news story, reporting that National Guard troops "took positions on rooftops, scanning for snipers and armed mobs as seething crowds of refugees milled below, desperate to flee. Gunfire crackled in the distance."

The New York Times repeated some of the reports of violence and unrest, but the newspaper usually was more careful to note that the information could not be verified.

The tabloid Ottawa Sun reported unverified accounts of "a man seeking help gunned down by a National Guard soldier" and "a young man run down and then shot by a New Orleans police officer."

London's Evening Standard invoked the future-world fantasy film "Mad Max" to describe the scene and threw in a "Lord of the Flies" allusion for good measure.

Televised images and photographs affirmed the widespread devastation in one of America's most celebrated cities.

"I don't think you can overstate how big of a disaster New Orleans is," said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a Florida school for professional journalists. "But you can imprecisely state the nature of the disaster. … Then you draw attention away from the real story, the magnitude of the destruction, and you kind of undermine the media's credibility."

Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss cited telephone breakdowns as a primary cause of reporting errors, but said the fact that most evacuees were poor African Americans also played a part.

"If the dome and Convention Center had harbored large numbers of middle class white people," Amoss said, "it would not have been a fertile ground for this kind of rumor-mongering."

Some of the hesitation that journalists might have had about using the more sordid reports from the evacuation centers probably fell away when New Orleans' top officials seemed to confirm the accounts.

Nagin and Police Chief Eddie Compass appeared on "Oprah" a few days after trouble at the Superdome had peaked.

Compass told of "the little babies getting raped" at the Superdome. And Nagin made his claim about hooligans raping and killing.

State officials this week said their counts of the dead at the city's two largest evacuation points fell far short of early rumors and news reports. Ten bodies were recovered from the Superdome and four from the Convention Center, said Bob Johannessen, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

(National Guard officials put the body count at the Superdome at six, saying the other four bodies came from the area around the stadium.)

Of the 841 recorded hurricane-related deaths in Louisiana, four are identified as gunshot victims, Johannessen said. One victim was found in the Superdome but was believed to have been brought there, and one was found at the Convention Center, he added.

Relief workers said that while the media hyped criminal activity, plenty of real suffering did occur at the Katrina relief centers.

"The hurricane had just passed, you had massive trauma to the city," said Lt. Col. Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard.

"No air conditioning, no sewage … it was not a nice place to be. All those people just in there, they were frustrated, they were hot. Out of all that chaos, all of these rumors start flying."

Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron, who headed security at the Superdome, said that for every complaint, "49 other people said, 'Thank you, God bless you.' "

The media inaccuracies had consequences in the disaster zone.

Bush, of the National Guard, said that reports of corpses at the Superdome filtered back to the facility via AM radio, undermining his struggle to keep morale up and maintain order.

"We had to convince people this was still the best place to be," Bush said. "What I saw in the Superdome was just tremendous amounts of people helping people."

But, Bush said, those stories received scant attention in newspapers or on television.

Times staff writer Scott Gold contributed to this report.

At September 27, 2005 10:04 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

The impression the mass media in this country wants to perpetuate to justify their continued control of the primary function of information communication in this country, is that elsewhere, other countries are much more repressive and suppressive. The truth of the matter is not that China (or any other supposed repressive government) is trying to eliminate freedom of speech -- but that they are eliminating the abuses of speech that contribute nothing and are counterproductive to any society. That distinction is not made clear by our mass media. In fact, they are the greatest abusers of freedom of expression -- undermining legitimate freedom of information exchanges.

China Wants Only 'Healthy' News on Web

Sep 25, 5:36 PM (ET)


BEIJING (AP) - China said Sunday it is imposing new regulations to control content on its news Web sites and will allow the posting of only "healthy and civilized" news.

The move is part of China's ongoing efforts to police the country's 100-million Internet population. Only the United States, with 135 million users, has more.

The new rules take effect immediately and will "standardize the management of news and information" in the country, the official Xinhua News Agency said Sunday.

Sites should only post news on current events and politics, according to the new regulations issued by the Ministry of Information Industry and China's cabinet, the State Council. The subjects that would be acceptable under those categories was not clear.

Only "healthy and civilized news and information that is beneficial to the improvement of the quality of the nation, beneficial to its economic development and conducive to social progress" will be allowed, Xinhua said.

"The sites are prohibited from spreading news and information that goes against state security and public interest," it added.

While the communist government encourages Internet use for education and business, it also blocks material it deems subversive or pornographic. Online dissidents who post items critical of the government, or those expressing opinions in chatrooms, are regularly arrested and charged under vaguely worded state security laws.

Earlier this month, a French media watchdog group said e-mail account information provided by Internet powerhouse Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) helped lead to the conviction and 10-year prison sentence of a Chinese journalist who had written about media restrictions in an e-mail.

As part of the wider effort to curb potential dissent, the government has also closed thousands of cybercafes - the main entry to the Web for many Chinese unable to afford a computer at home.

Authorities in Shanghai have installed surveillance cameras and begun requiring visitors to Internet cafes to register with their official identity cards.

The government also recently threatened to shut down unregistered Web sites and blogs, the online diaries in which users post their thoughts for others to read.

At October 01, 2005 8:42 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

The truth is that 95% of what is presented by the mass media is unnecessary for most people to know; they would be far better off not knowing this information, as many are. It has become a form of entertainment, or preoccupation, with people who have nothing better to do, and the news will consume as much of one's time as one allows it to.

When people really have to know something, the procedure of choice is to search for the targeted information and find it quickly. The mass media mode is to passively allow them to feed information that one does not necessarily want or serve one's best interests, but is the ideal situation for absorbing propaganda. And so mass media has become a mass manipulation, or propaganda machine rather than a source of real information. Unscrupulous people, and they populate the newsrooms all across America, recognize it as their opportunity, because under the cloak of confidentiality and anonymity, it is possible for the mediocre to rise to the top and exclude talent and merit.

And so they attack the competent and enthrone the cult and culture of blame and mediocrity as their rule. There's just not too many takers among the intelligent and competent -- but for these editors, they get to be the big fish no matter how much they have to shrink the pond to remain so.


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