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OhmyNews' and Its Citizen Journalists
as Avatars of a Post-Modern Marketplace of Ideas
Ronald R. Rodgers
The University of Florida
Department of Journalism
P.O. Box 118400
Gainesville, Fla. 32611
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Contact until July 1, 2005:
E.W. Scripps School of Journalism
Athens, Ohio 45701
Paper Submitted to the Civic Journalism Interest Group
of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
2005 AEJMC Convention
August 10-13, 2005
San Antonio, Texas
OhmyNews' and Its Citizen Journalists
as Avatars of a Post-Modern Marketplace of Ideas
In late 1979 and early 1980 following the assassination of South
Korean dictator Park Chun Hee, this author was working at the Korea
Herald, an English-language daily in downtown Seoul with a purported
circulation of around 80,000 both in country and around the world. It
was a time of upheaval an interregnum in which many
democratic-minded citizens saw both the first intimations of a
democracy obscured by the insinuation of the military's planned
takeover of the government. At the height of these conflicting
vectors, the more democratic-minded students took to the streets in
protest for democracy and against the military takeover. Each day,
through our dusty third-floor office windows we watched thousands of
university students march toward the city center where they would
meet thousands of others pouring in from other universities around
Seoul. Waiting them there was the capital building, the Seoul city
hall, and the U.S. Embassy ringed by thousands of uniformed troops
replete in full riot gear and backed by riot-control vehicles. More
than once the paper's reporters and photographers returned bloodied
and bandaged from covering the protests, a reflection of the
brutality the government troops were meting out to the protesters.
It was a given among those that discussed such things that to
succeed, the students could not stand alone, but had to convince the
South Korean middle-class office workers and shopkeepers alike to
join the movement. Such a swelling of the ranks of protest would
undoubtedly fracture the underpinnings of the military's support, it
was agreed. Already, in May of 1980, an instance of such a coming
together of societal forces had occurred in Kwangju, a southwest
provincial capital this author had just moved from a few months
before. In that city students and shopkeepers alike battled and
overwhelmed the police, taking over the city until in a
Tiananmen-like scenario army troops moved in, opened fire, and
The military understood well the fault lines on which its power
rested. It understood, too, that to ensure the continuance of that
power, to persuade the citizenry the nation needed its hand on the
tiller of the ship of state, it needed to control the messages that
formed public opinion in this case that the rioters were instigated
by outside influences, read radicals and communists, and that the
military was protecting the nation from those outliers. And as crude
as they were, the military's efforts to do so worked. For example,
incoming foreign-language news magazines bound for subscribers or for
sale at kiosks all over the country were individually clipped of
offending stories before they were distributed. Television and radio
news broadcast were strictly controlled as to the information they
were allowed to air. And the nation's newspapers were censored
heavily. In fact, it was perplexing why those bloodied reporters and
photographers at the Herald even bothered. Little of what they
reported or photographed made it into the paper unless it was
rewritten to conform to the military's message. The same was true of
the reams of stories pouring from the news wire machines each day.
Indeed, when one would turn from looking down at the students
marching toward the city center, there immediately behind at the
managing editor's desk at the head of the cavernous newsroom was a
long metal spike piled high with wire service reports about protests
and riots around the country. None of that information, unless it
tended to favor the military, ever made it into the paper. And each
day, to ensure no subterfuge by editors trying to slip something into
the paper, before the plate-making process the pasted-up pages were
taken to the basement of Seoul City Hall where members of the Korean
Central Intelligence Agency would pore over the pages and demand that
offending stories be removed. In addition, to ensure the paper would
not run any "white-space" protests of the censorship, editors had to
bring along galleys of substitute stories to be pasted in to replace
those that were censored.
The Marketplace of Ideas
Ultimately, the military in South Korea succeeded and the "rule of
the generals" lasted for several years. The difficult task this paper
attempts then is to conjoin that autocracy with the first traces of a
participatory democracy less than two decades later in order to
illustrate as clearly as possible the possibilities inherent to the
connected computer. Through analogical reasoning hopefully without
delving into magical thinking this paper will show that in those
dark times for a democratic movement we can also draw enlightenment
about the contrapuntal relationship between communication and
democracy in a marketplace of ideas unswayed and unhindered by
governmental or corporate interests. To do so, this paper compares
what occurred during the authoritarianism of two decades ago with the
nurturing of a civil society and the growth of a grass-roots
democratic movement two decades later through the aegis of an
unrestrained and a nearly uncontrollable electronic media most
pointedly an online phalanx of citizen journalists. Indeed, it could
be argued that South Korea is a kind of laboratory for studying the
interstitial linkages between communication and democracy or at
least a grass-roots activism for change and confrontation with
hegemonic forces and the harbinger of possible futures in other
nations as the technology of broadband technology sweeps across them.
To that point, this paper will attempt a textual analysis of a
successful online citizen-journalism news site in South Korea. But
since this author's slight grasp of the Korean language has
diminished to a few paltry idioms, this analysis will look at the
substantial popular literature written about the site. That
literature includes interviews with readers, commentators, and the
founder of the site whose rhetorical stance is often one of
legitimizing an outlier journalistic force confronting the
traditional media. Much of this literature deals with questions of
effect, innovation, reaction, agency, journalistic norms, and
legitimacy. However, little of this literature fully explores the
predictive possibilities of the connected computer regarding citizen
journalism as entrιe to revivifying civil society and concomitant
democracy. That is the argument this paper makes. Undoubtedly, this
argument tends to be much more long-winded than originally intended.
But that failing largely stems from all the tangential opportunities
for argument and evidentiary discourse about possibilities that
cascade from this subject once the door is opened. In fact, in being
about one subject, this paper is about another. Seeing worth in a
citizen-journalist media model inevitably requires us to question the
legitimacy of well-anchored journalistic norms.
One theory that this paper will use is the marketplace of ideas
metaphor as ground for civil society and concomitant democracy. Here,
however, it should be noted that we are not talking about the
maligned concept of a marketplace of ideas leading to objective
truth, which is unverifiable. Instead, what is meant is the
inclusionary notion of the people the demos circumventing layers
of intermediaries and participating in the decision-making process
regarding policies that affect their lives. This is a notion often
attributed to John Stuart Mill and then refined further by the
mid-20th-century philosopher Alexander Meiklejohn, who said
successful self-government requires "that unwise ideas must have a
hearing as well as wise ones." "The primary purpose of the First
Amendment is, then, that all citizens shall, so far as possible,
understand the issues which bear upon our common life. That is why no
idea, no opinion, no doubt, no belief, no counterbelief, no relevant
information, may be kept from them." And as the media regulation
scholar Philip Napoli has noted, in discussions about the marketplace
of ideas metaphor:
The key is to recognize that less lofty and more pragmatic goals
other than the attainment of truth have historically been associated
with the marketplace of ideas concept. Specifically, in moving from
the ideal types of policymaking, a vigorous marketplace of ideas has
been considered valuable as long as it contributes to (among other
things) improved citizen decision making, and hence, more effective
Napoli also notes that in the United States the concepts at the core
of regulating the marketplace of ideas (among other things) were not
created out of whole cloth, but are, to a degree, extensions of that
exemplar of free speech the First Amendment. However, because of
the ambiguity inherent in the First Amendment, Napoli says, legal
scholars and political theorists alike have found a number of values
(or functions) at the core of the First Amendment, which, together,
work to dissect and splay for purview many of the tangential
functional elements of a marketplace of ideas. Among these values
are: The Advancement of Knowledge/Discovery of Truth Function, which
is rooted in the "marketplace of ideas" proposition that argues that
freely and openly exchanging ideas ratchets up the knowledge of
citizens, and the more knowledgeable they are, the wiser their
decisions whether as individuals or as a collective; the Enhancing
the Democratic Process Function, which argues that freedom of
speech's foremost value is as it relates to improving and augmenting
the democratic function; the Community Stability Function, which
argues that if free discussion is prevented, then the ability of
citizens to make rational judgments is limited to the same degree,
and that this ultimately leads to an inflexible society unable to
adjust to a changing world or develop new ideas; and the Checking
Governmental Power Function, which argues that the core value of free
speech is to preclude misconduct by the government. 
Legal scholar Vincent Blasi is the most the well-known proponent of
this media watchdog role he calls it the "checking value" and
traces its tradition from colonial pamphleteers through Jefferson and
Madison through several Supreme Court decisions. He argues that
within the overlapping ambits between what is public and what is
private, public officials' right to privacy and thus withholding
information from the marketplace of ideas must shrink. That's
because while powerful private interests are held in check by the
government, there is no corresponding check on what government does.
Therefore, Blasi said, "the exercise of power by public officials
needs to be more intensively scrutinized and publicized than the
activities of those who hold even vast accumulations of private
power." Simply put, the proposition is that systematic scrutiny
and exposure of the activities of public officials through an
unfettered marketplace of ideas will produce more good in the form of
prevention or containment of official misbehavior than harm of
various sorts such as diminution in the efficiency of public service
or weakening of the trust that ultimately holds any political society
Napoli also argues that in relation to communication regulation as
regards the free flow and reception of information, the concept of
"network externality" is particularly important especially in
making predictions about the future effects on governance through
improvements in technology. Succinctly, in relation to the
marketplace of ideas metaphor, the concept implies that the more
people who take advantage of the free flow and reception of
information, the greater the value of those freedoms. To that
point, Andrew L. Shapiro notes in The Control Revolution: How the
Internet is Putting Individuals in Charge and Changing the World, the
more people involved in a communicative network the better that is
for promoting democratic ideals. And one of the key elements to
creating a large, efficient communicative network is widespread
adoption of broadband a larger conduit than the dial-up telephone
lines that have difficulty handling the quick access to such
information as video images. "Fortunately," Shapiro notes, "there is
good reason to believe that broadband networks, which are now in
their infancy, will soon be standard."
Co-Opting the Marketplace of Ideas
But to return to South Korea two decades ago, the military created a
shunt that limited the subject of discourse and perverted public
opinion to its own ends. In fact at one point, even the U.S.
government was affected negatively when South Korea's media announced
that the United States had condoned the movement of troops off the
front lines with North Korea to deal with the protests in Seoul. This
widely publicized falsehood, which acted to legitimize the military's
actions, prompted the U.S. Embassy to send representatives to the
media outlets to vociferously complain and ask that the record be set
There is, of course, nothing new here. This is an old filtering
tactic at odds with a well-functioning marketplace of ideas and
practiced to one degree or another around the world by both
governmental and corporate interests separately or in collusion. In
fact, in South Korea more than two decades ago, we see in the
communicative machinations of the military and colluding governmental
forces a blunt-force exemplar of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's
propaganda model. When viewed, however, through the lens of purported
democratic regimes, this effort at what they describe as
"manufacturing consent" is much more veiled and subtle. The model
proposes five "filters" ownership, funding, sourcing, flak, and
anticommunism that sort out the type of news that ultimately is
published. Each of these filters to one degree or another was at work
in the South Korea military's control of the broadcast and print
media two decades ago. Such filters "fix the premises of discourse
and interpretation, and the definition of what is newsworthy in the
first place, and they explain the basis and operations of what amount
to propaganda campaigns." In fact, this control seeped downward
to the lowest levels. For example, as a middle-school and later
university instructor, this author was told by more than one teacher
or professor that being seen reading the "wrong" left-leaning
newspaper could direly affect one's education career.
As Herman noted in 2003, the "propaganda model deals with
extraordinarily complex sets of events, and only claims to offer a
broad framework of analysis, a first approximation, that requires
modification depending on local and special factors, and that may be
entirely inapplicable in some cases. But if it offers insight in
numerous important cases that have large effects and cumulative
ideological force, it is arguably serviceable unless a better model
is provided." In fact, the theory of structural pluralism
especially when it is weakened and ameliorated toward the commonweal
as regards diverse media and consequently views and opinions is
also apropos here and dovetails well with the propaganda model. The
concept views the media as a supportive subset of a hegemonic system
operating as an agent of social control blatantly as in the
case of South Korea, more furtively as it is practiced in a
democratic corporatocracy. Equally enticing here is Marshall
McLuhan's nearly four-decade-old notion that electronic media lead to
less specialization, less agency by a few experts, and a more
communal world of multifarious points of view the core value of
a constitutive civil society and a concept we will explore later in
relation to a postmodern marketplace of ideas.
But for the moment, what is telling here is that the two decades
since the rule of the generals began have seen the rise of electronic
media computer technology, the Internet, and efforts by both South
Korea's authoritarian and later more democratic rulers to create one
of the most broadband-connected nations in the world. That effort at
enhanced computer connectivity has had wholly unexpected
ramifications far from the commercial interests that originally drove
it. Again, in this nation of about 43 million around the size of the
state of Indiana can be observed the sea-change workings of democracy
and communication in the marketplace of ideas this time through the
use of the Internet to eliminate many of the traditional media
filters and structures in giving voice to the multitudes of a
OhmyNews as Avatar
The Internet, the growing worldwide complex of the connected
computer, has democratic activists crowing that, at last, the public
has the means to re-inject into the discourse surrounding the
decision-making process the ideals of democracy in other words, to
take back the media from the corporate and coterminously the
governmental interests that hold sway over the "pictures in our
head." And one of the primary facilities of the connected computer is
the greater degree of interactivity qua interaction that
communication mediated through online offers. It is, in fact, this
interactive mode that intensifies the ideal of a marketplace of
ideas, especially in this age of the postmodern sensibility. In
discussing news in the context of the connected computer, the concept
of postmodernism is crucial in the sense that a postmodern culture is
derived to a large degree, as contemporary media theorist Shayla
Thiel said, from our electronic media. Postmodernism is an
intellectual heritage that includes MTV, Entertainment Tonight, and
Wired magazine, said Thiel, who goes on to note that: "With its
tendency to blur and blend media, the online newspaper is not as
straightforward as its ink counterpart, even if it contains all of
the news and information that is in the newspaper. The online
newspaper is postmodern."
One current exemplar of just this kind of interactive community
journalism but with a twist and a predictive model of the
postmodern newspaper and where many future online news sites could
well go is OhmyNews (http://www.OhmyNews.com). A collaborative online
newspaper in South Korea that in a few short years through the
aegis of that nation's enhanced broadband efficiency has become one
of the most influential media outlets in that country and a stunning
example of what San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor has
described as "we journalism." In fact, Gillmor said, "OhmyNews is
transforming the 20th century's journalism-as-lecture model where
organizations tell the audience what the news is and the audience
either buys it or doesn't into something vastly more bottom-up and
OhmyNews was founded by Oh Yeon-Ho, a former writer for progressive
magazines who wanted to create a news source that would cause readers
to exclaim "Oh My God!" a term that entered the Korean lexicon
through the shtick of a comedian popular at the time the news site
began. Oh, who was born in the South Korean countryside in 1964,
has a master's degree in journalism from Regent University in
Virginia. From 1988 to 1999 he worked as both a reporter and director
of the news department of an alternative monthly magazine, Mal. After
taking part in student protests against the government, he was
sentenced to a year in prison in 1986.
In a September 2003 interview with Japan Media Review, Oh said he was
attracted to the Internet as a forum because he had very little money
certainly not enough to begin a printed publication. "So I thought
the Internet was the space where a few people who possessed nothing
could bring about results using guerilla methods."
Based in Seoul, OhmyNews daily offers South Koreans news from around
the world and the nation, and receives 14 million visits daily in a
country of about 40 million people and is read according to the
site's estimates by 1.2 million people each day. OhmyNews,
begun in 2000 with a staff of four, has grown to a staff of about 50
reporters and editors who publish about 200 stories a day. Most of
the news, however and this it what makes it unique is written by
its nearly 27,000 registered "citizen-reporters" who submit about 200
articles each day. Contributors are paid between nothing and $8
per story.  The pay varies according to how a story is ranked by
editors using a forestry terminology ranging from "kindling" to rare
The online site has had many scoops regarding governmental
malfeasance, but more importantly it has been credited with fostering
a nationwide get-out-the-vote campaign that helped defeat a
conservative candidate and elect the nation's current president, Roh
Moo Hyun, who ran as a reformer. In fact, during the election
campaign, the free online service was reportedly receiving 20 million
page views a day. It was on election day, especially, that the
site's influence could be most clearly seen. When the conservative
candidate Lee Hoi Chang started pulling into the lead, a cascade of
online interactivity took place as OhmyNews' readers sent out e-mails
and cell-phone text messages urging friends to go to the polls and
vote for Roh. While the nation's three leading newspapers were
dismissing the candidate as a dangerous leftist, OhmyNews distributed
unedited streaming video of the Millennium Democratic Party's
provincial primaries and campaign events, including Roh's appearances
and speeches. Established media missed the importance of the growing
support for Roh, while OhmyNews gave it blanket coverage. "Netizens
won," Oh said of the election. "Traditional media lost."
"OhmyNews is as influential as any newspaper," a South Korean
diplomat told Wired. "No policy maker can afford to ignore it. South
Korea is changing in ways that we cannot believe ourselves." As
it happens, much of OhmyNews' success and influence certainly has
something to do with the fact that around 70 percent of the nation's
population has access to broadband connections. Indeed, because of
the ubiquity of high-speed connections, each South Korean spends an
estimated 1,340 minutes online every month shopping, trading, and
chatting. "The Internet is so important here," a Western diplomat
told The Guardian. "This is the most online country in the world. The
younger generation gets all their information from the web. Some
don't even bother with TVs. They just download the programmes."
Oh said that after years of government control of the printed and
broadcast press and its many ethical indiscretions, readers in South
Korea were unhappy with and no longer trusted the conventional press.
"Thus on the one hand, discontent with the conventional press, on the
other hand, citizens' desire to talk about themselves. These two
things were joined together." Oh said that he thought up this concept
of citizen journalists more than 10 years ago while working as a
journalist with an activist, alternative publication. It was his
objective to "say farewell to 20th-century Korean journalism, with
the concept that every citizen is a reporter. The professional news
culture has eroded our journalism, and I have always wanted to
Of course, only the degree to which the participatory mode may change
is all that is new here especially as regards U.S. media. A
rudimentary print version of citizen journalism is as old as
newspapers themselves. It involved the use of correspondents from
outlying rural areas or even from the urban core who would offer
everything from tidbits of news to full-blown stories about events,
occurrences or people. In addition, amateur journalism with no
connection to the traditional press began with the invention of the
first print duplication methods and dates back to the mid-19th
century in the United States. "Some of these small printers found
time to publish their own papers, and eventually began exchanging
journals with one another. Over time, these small intimate press
groups developed into regional and then national organizations,
providing an essential framework for amateur journalistic endeavors."
Still, in a participatory online news site like OhmyNews, the lines
between reporters and readers are blurred or completely effaced. We
can certainly see why this would be a threat to the traditional
journalist. As Joshua Meyrowitz noted, the degree of status and
authority one has acquired is a function of one's control over
knowledge. "In general, authority is enhanced when information
systems are isolated; authority is weakened when information systems
are merged." Indeed, we can see examples of that and the future
in the present in what Meyrowitz calls the "resurgence of oral
forms of discourse." "Through electronic media, many authorities
who once had a clear advantage over the average person are now often
put on an equal or lower footing."
Objectivity of 'citizen reporters'
Once pluralistic participatory journalism sites such as OhmyNews
muscle their way into the marketplace of ideas, one of the first
complaints about such non-traditional forms of journalism is their
lack of the journalistic norm of objectivity. In this case, OhmyNews
an intensified form of the Web log in which journalism can be done
by other than just professionals has been described as "a wild,
inconsistent, unpredictable blend of the Drudge report, Slashdot and
a traditional, but partisan, newspaper."
OhmyNews tends to be anticorporate, antigovernment and anti-American.
Stories are often subjective, oozing with emotion and odd personal
tidbits. But they also can be passionate, detailed and knowledgeably
written. The site covers everything a traditional newspaper covers
from sports to international politics but does it with heaps of
And coterminous with the concept of objectivity is the journalistic
tool of interactivity. Certainly, interactivity is, for all intents
and purpose, the raison d'etre for OhmyNews and the major reason for
its success, popularity, and influence. Some of the more prominent
interactive devices are a daily readers poll on the front page
and links in each story to a comment page in which readers can post
comments ranging from supportive to harsh, and they can also vote on
whether to approve or disapprove of specific comments. OhmyNews'
editorial policy is largely set by its thousands of contributors and
its "3 million very active readers, who can vote and comment on every
published article." Don Park, a Korean-American reader, told
Wired that the site is "entertaining, it's heartfelt and it's
caring," and he wished that America had a similar site. "It's like
blogs. It has a personal side and an emotional side. It has human
texture. It's not bland and objective like traditional news. There's
a definite bias. It's not professional, but you get the facts.
Indeed, Oh says, OhmyNews "wanted to say goodbye to 20th century
journalism where people only saw things through the eyes of the
mainstream, conservative media. Our main concept is every citizen can
be a reporter. We put everything out there and people judge the truth
Still, OhmyNews's methods have raised concerns about the quality and
objectivity of its reporting. "Marketing people and activists can
pose as journalists to promote their own products and ideas," said
Choi Joon-suk, a senior editor at South Korea's largest printed
newspaper, Chosun Ilbo. "The quality of the online media is a huge
problem." Oh disagrees. The 200 stories a day citizen reporters write
are all fact checked and edited by professional reporters before
being posted on the Internet, he said. Only two stories have led to
defamation cases, he said.
Still, the issues of both objectivity and accuracy always arise in
any discussion of journalism done by non-traditional journalists. Yet
scholars such as John Pavlik in his book Journalism and New Media
have raised the heretical view that too often objectivity, fairness,
and accuracy are nothing more than a cloak screen hiding the fact
that some bit of reporting is essentially not true. "In other words,"
Pavlik says, "a story may be impartial, but that doesn't make it true."
The rise of online journalism transforms this issue. As new sources
of news emerge and as the public turns to an ever-widening array of
news sources, the practices and standards of those diverse sources is
increasingly uncertain. Perhaps by moving outside the ideology of
objectivity, these alternative news sources may help to put the facts
into a more complete context and perspective. Perhaps society
collectively will then be able to triangulate on the truth in a way
that traditional journalism cannot, because of it objective ideology.
Chris Willis and Shayne Bowman, in their lengthy dissection of
citizen journalism, describe such participatory journalism as a
"publish, then filter" model rather than the traditional "filter,
then publish model." Indeed, in his analysis of journalistic
objectivity, Ryan Michael discussed some alternatives to objectivity,
and in the context of traditional journalism he criticized each of
them as inadequate to the task. However, in the context of this
discussion, there are attributes of at least two of these theories of
objectivity that seem efficacious. One of them is standpoint
epistemology, which Michael describes as a product of feminist
critique of objective scientific inquiry. It "is viewed as a
counterhegemonic discourse that destabilizes hegemonic
discourse." In the context of journalism, the reporting of a
story should begin from the "perspective of the marginalized groups
that are affected by events and issues so that the unrecognized
weight of the socially dominant 'insider' positions would be
counterbalanced." Another approach to objectivity involves what
is commonly described as public or civic journalism, in which
journalists become active participants in leading readers to
re-engage with "public life." "Public journalists must uncover
problems and motivate citizens to seek solutions, but without being
led by official policy makers."
Finally, when we stop for a moment to look at the norms of
traditional journalism and balance that with what we see in the
traditional news media every day, there exists a disparity from the
ideal that more than one commentator has noted. For example, Bill
Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel have pointed out that such appellations as
fairness, balance, and objectivity are fuzzy abstractions upon which
no journalist can hang his or her hat. Instead, they say, "The
primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the
information they need to be free and self-governing."
In OhmyNews's attempt to provide that information, the reader has
become participant in the news, and concomitantly the traditional
role of the journalist changes. In an online news site like OhmyNews,
the lines between reporters and readers are blurred or completely
effaced. With OhmyNews, much of its news comes from "either novice
reporters or ordinary members of the public who spontaneously send in
an interesting yarn that may or may not have been checked and about
which they may or may not be disinterested." To that point, Oh
has said that OhmyNews "was the complete demolition of conventional
media logic and of the concept of journalists. 'Every citizen is a
reporter' means destruction of the concept of reporters and also the
destruction of the concept of articles." In fact, Oh says, his
online news site does not regard objective reporting "as a source of
pride." Stories with both facts and opinion are just fine. And,
he notes, "fluency does not always make an article good."
In this way, an article can be considered in a different way, and
among our citizen reporters, professionals from all spheres, such as
professors, lawyers, and government employees, are also citizen
reporters. There is an infinite variety. Therefore, it is right to
claim that the OhmyNews articles are of variable quality, but it is
not right to think that the quality is not competent.
Oh's discussion here making distinctions between that which is
straight news and thus requiring the traditional fact checking
and that which is not, and the distinctions between kinds of stories
and thus the kind of vetting that they require arises out of the
thousand-fold complexity of a citizen journalist news site. It is a
reflection of J.D. Lasica's prescription that in "our increasingly
digital society, online news operations need to experiment with new
communication forms to abandon the sheltered mindset of newsroom
professionals and embrace a culture of true interactivity, to break
some rules and offer idiosyncratic, fresh voices (especially young
voices) to the public. But they must not abandon the standards and
values that have served us so well."
Still, to that point, Willis and Bowman point out that citizen
journalism is largely unbound by the accretion of strictures that has
grown up around the traditional media. In addition, they noted, what
to call it has also been confused by the sundry communicative modes
new technologies afford. Citizens doing journalism is not just found
in weblogs, they note, but occurs through newsgroups, forums,
chatrooms, and peer-to-peer application like instant messaging.
In their exploration of citizen journalism, Willis and Bowman used
the term "participatory journalism," which they define as:
The act of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing an active role in
the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating
news and information. The intent of this participation is to provide
independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant
information that a democracy requires.
Participatory journalism is a bottom-up, emergent phenomenon in which
there is little or no editorial oversight or formal journalistic
workflow dictating the decisions of a staff. Instead, it is the
result of many simultaneous, distributed conversations that either
blossom or quickly atrophy in the Web's social network.
Shapiro describes this process as one of "peeling back a layer of
intermediaries who are no longer necessary," which he calls
Certainly it is time for us to abandon the idea, if we haven't done
so already, that a fact is true simply because it has been 'reported'
somewhere. Instead, we must dissect the news in much same way that we
interpret a film like Rashomon, in which Akira Kurosawa intentionally
presents multiple, inconsistent perspectives on the same event.
This requires that we rely more, not less, on certain trusted
intermediaries: not the superpersonalized news services, but outlets
that put a premium on being right instead of on being first.
We need, now, Shapiro says, quality editors and writers more than
ever to act as what he calls "truth watchers" that will offer "the
story behind the story."
Meanwhile, other sites that offer news generated by both citizen
reporters and trained staff include JanJan in Japan and Moveon.org's
misleader.org and any number of sites collected on the
international network of Independent Media Centers. "While the owners
and administrators of such sites range widely from passionate
individuals to collectives to upstart nonprofits these blogs are
markedly more democratic than their corporate-run, top-down
brethren," says Howard Rheingold, a guru of activist online news
and the author of Smart Mobs, The Virtual Community and Tools for Thought.
Note, too, that Rheingold's expansive definition of blog covers such
news sites as OhmyNews, which, he worries, are under threat of
extinction through marginalization by such things as "misinformation,
disinformation, incredulity and magical thinking." Harbingers,
however, of an online mode of veracity and authentication, he says,
can be found in aggregators that post blogs according to popularity,
which tend to sift out the more unreliable examples of amateur
journalism. "And reputation systems, filters and syndication services
also could develop into useful tools for assessing the veracity of
Before leaving this topic of reliability and credibility, we need to
also contextualize for a moment the place of the media in South
Korea. The government only lifted press censorship in 1987 with the
end of military rule, and so, there exist few of the long-term
normative behavior standards we would normally associate with
journalism in a democracy. And for many in the public in South Korea,
the media have been traditionally viewed as a mouthpiece for
government. Thus, one can understand how a dialectical opposite a
mouthpiece of the people might well succeed despite the many
ethical fault lines inherent in a participatory journalism such as OhmyNews.
However, Daphna Yeshua and Mark Deuze noted in their study of the
issues surrounding online ethics that while it may be presumed that
traditional media norms offer a framework for exploring such issues
in establishing online ethical norms, their review of the literature
"showed that traditional (press) ethics and theory provide
insufficient support for these journalists in their new environment."
To that point, a Wired reader in a short screed in the magazine's
Rants & Raves column following a story about OhmyNews makes the
substantive distinction that in its own admitted nonobjectivity it is
being much more honest than those publications that describe
themselves as objective. "The difference between OhmyNews and a
traditional media outlet is that the bias is more obvious not that
it exists in one but not in the other. OhmyNews doesn't try to
pretend to be unbiased. But every reporter, even with the best
intentions, slants their coverage of the news, because they're human."
Civil Society Through Cyberspace
"The crux of direct electronic democracy is that individuals can
exercise a whole new kind of civic power," Shapiro argued. The power
involves more than voting online, he said, but offers the citizenry
the chance to play a larger role in making the decisions that public
officials acting as our agents once made for us. "Now, though,
technology may allow us to make many of these choices for ourselves.
We could become not just citizens, but citizen-governors each of us
playing a role in governing the distribution of resources, the
wielding of state power, and the protection of rights." Shapiro
goes on to call for readjusting the Internet's code to allow the
creation of what he calls "PublicNet," an online space much like "a
kind of street corner in cyberspace" where otherwise marginalized and
little-heard-from groups, activists, artists, and advocates for
causes could be seen and heard. 
Similarly, Robert Dahl writing in Democracy and Its Critics in 1989
saw in telecommunications the lubricant of a participatory democracy.
He argued even before the explosion in Internet use that it was
"To ensure that information about the political agenda, appropriate
in level and form, and accurately reflecting the best knowledge
available, is easily and universally accessible to all citizens.
To create easily available and universally accessible opportunities
to all citizens.
To influence the subjects on which the information above is available.
And to participate in a relevant way in political discussions."
Telecommunications read today the connected computer would help
"narrow the gap that separates policy elites from the demos," that is
the gap between those with the specialized knowledge needed to run a
modern democracy and those who are governed through what Dahl calls a
By means of telecommunications virtually every citizen could have
information about public issues almost immediately accessible in a
form (print, debates, dramatization, animated cartoons, for example)
and at a level (from expert to novice, for example) appropriate to
the particular citizen. Telecommunications can also provide every
citizen with opportunities to place questions on this agenda of
public issue information. Interactive systems of telecommunication
make it possible for citizens to participate in discussion with
experts, policymakers, and fellow citizens.
What Shapiro and Dahl are talking about here is revivifying through
the aegis of electronics a constitutive civil society the ground
from which democracy is established and sustained and whose very
sense of community is a product of a marketplace of ideas. There is
nothing new about the idea of civil society especially in America.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th-century French observer of American
society and its still developing democracy, admired the mobilizing
power of intermediary associations that acted as a public space
between the government and its citizens. "As soon as several of the
inhabitants of the United States have conceived a sentiment or an
idea that they want to produce in the world, they seek each other
out; and when they have found each other, they unite. From then on,
they are no longer isolated men, but a power that speaks, and to
which one listens."
Benjamin R. Barber sees in the re-establishment of civil society both
here in America and globally the salvation of democracy, which is
being torn apart by what he calls McWorld's "integrative
modernization and aggressive economic and cultural globalization"
and the atomizing tribalism and reactionary fundamentalism of Jihad.
Since the time of de Tocqueville, Barber says, civil society,
squeezed by the confrontation between the state and market, has lost
its "preeminent place in American life" and has nearly vanished as
such actors as "schools, churches, unions, foundations and other
associations" have become nothing more than special interests with
Even in America, where the heritage of John Locke ought to have kept
it supple, the idea of civil society has petrified and crumbled its
dry remains easily pushed aside in favor of a set of simple
interlocking oppositions: the state versus the individual, government
versus the private sector, public bureaucracy versus free markets,
corrupt politicians versus angry voters. Politically alienated and
consumption-weary people, equally uncomfortable with what they see as
a rapacious and unsympathetic government and a fragmented and
self-absorbed private sector, find themselves homeless.
However, Barber says, while it is fine to talk about the efficacy of
civil society, an effort must be made to reinvigorate it in the 21st
century by "reconstructing civil society as a framework for the
reinvention of democratic citizenship."
To re-create civil society on this prescription does not entail a
novel civic architecture; rather, it means reconceptualizing and
repositioning institutions already in place, or finding ways to
re-create them in an international setting. In the United States, for
example, this suggests turning again to schools, foundations,
voluntary associations, churches and temples and mosques, community
movements, and the media, as well as myriad other civil associations
and removing them from the private sector, repositioning them instead
in civil society.
While "reconceptualizing and repositioning" are nebulous terms, we
can see something of the sort going on in this country where
progressive-minded governments understand the future is not in their
hands. For example, in Bend, Oregon, a small town of about 50,000
people in the high desert on the eastern edge of the Cascade
Mountains, the city has committed itself to creating a series of
neighborhood associations to act as a bridge of communication and
education between the neighborhoods and city government. And in the
last couple years, six have been formed not through the auspices of
the government, but through an independent contractor who acts as a
liaison between the government and its citizens. That diffusion of
power in a small town in Oregon goes to the core of John Dewey's
belief that democracy is nothing more than an extension of community
life. "Every expansive era in the history of mankind has coincided
with the operation of factors which tended to eliminate distance
between peoples and classes previously hemmed off from one
another," he said. And that is the point and the strength of a
functioning civil society, which is, Dewey said, the foundation of democracy.
A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode
off associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. The
extension in space of the number of individuals who participate in an
interest so that each has to refer his own action to that of others,
and to consider the action of others to give point and direction to
his own, is equivalent to the breaking down of those barriers of
class, race, and national territory which kept men from perceiving
the full import of their activity.
In a similar vein, former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott
has identified advances in technology as a major factor behind
democratization since even the most fortified borders dissolve in the
blitz early in history of radio, then television (followed by
cable and satellite), followed by the fax machine, e-mail and the
Internet. Barber, too, sees in technology a way of reconstructing
"electronic wards and teleassemblies. But this will happen only if
markets are not left to determine how these technologies will be
developed and deployed."
Oh has noted that he believes journalism is changing, and that in the
21st century it will become fundamentally different because "if a
reader wants to, he can convert himself into a reporter and this is
realized through the Internet."
Now professional journalists have to survive not only competition
among themselves, but also from that with ordinary netizens. The only
way to compete now is through the quality of their articles. That
means that the age of competing through the name card "I am a New
York Times reporter" has gone. When a New York Times reporter writes
an article and an ordinary citizen whether he is a professor or a
neighbor writes an article criticizing it splendidly, then the
citizen becomes the winner.
The online news medium is, as Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin
have noted, a remediation of the printed news medium, that is, the
representation of one medium in another medium. Still, in
exploring the effects of new media technologies on culture, Bolter
and Grusin are disinclined to see the workings of technological
determinism. "New digital media are not external agents that come to
disrupt an unsuspecting culture. They emerge from within cultural
contexts, and they refashion other media, which are embedded in the
same or similar contexts." The door has only now just opened to
those contexts, and so this paper has attempted to feel out the
open-source phenomenon of citizen journalism from more than one
tangent so as to begin to grasp the slippery ethical verbiage,
conceits, and prejudices that surround traditional journalism.
Citizen journalism made exponentially effective through the
connected computer is so new that a successful model has yet to
find ground to sustain it here in America, the longtime center of all
innovations electronic. Instead, it has taken root west of our
western world where late capitalism has sloughed off the autocrat in
a land whose media is largely barren of the ethical verbiage,
conceits, and prejudices inherent to traditional western journalism.
Still, we must come to some understanding of citizen journalism as a
seemingly efficacious model of transformative communications. Why?
For one, it appeals to our ideal of journalism as aegis of civil
society and concomitant democracy. For another, if reified on our own
ground, it would acknowledge our very pluralism and valorize the
voices of our diversity. This very mosaicness then calls for a closer
look at citizen journalism through the lens of postmodernism not
merely as the online remediation of printed newspapers but as a
refashioning of journalism into a fragmented, relativistic,
intertextual, hyperlinked, interactive, and infinitely mass
reproduced simulacra of reality unmediated by the elites who adhere
to the structure of traditional media.
 Alexander Meiklejohn, Free Speech and Its Relation to
Self-Government (New York : Harper & Brothers, 1948), 15.
 Ibid, 88-89.
 Philip M. Napoli, Foundations of Communications Policy:
Principles and Process in the Regulation of Electronic Media
(Cresskill, New Jersey : Hampton Press, Inc., 2003), 100.
 Ibid., 31-61.
 Vincent Blasi, "The Checking Value in First Amendment Theory,"
American Bar Foundation Research Journal. 3 (Summer 1977) : 541.
 Ibid., 552.
 Napoli, Foundations of Communications Policy., 42-43.
 Andrew L. Shapiro, The Control Revolution: How the Internet is
Putting Individuals in Charge and Changing the World (New York:
Public Affairs, 1999), 17.
 Incident viewed by the author in the newsroom at the Korea Herald.
 Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The
Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York : Pantheon Books, 1988), 2.
 Edward S. Herman, "The Propaganda Model: A Retrospective,"
Human Reason, December 9, 2003, 3.
 Mass Media, Social Control and Social Change: A Macrosocial
Perspective, David Demers and K. Viswanath, eds. (Ames : Iowa State
University Press, 1999).
 Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man
(New York : Signet Books, 1964), 59.
 Shayla Thiel, "A Postmodern Medium," The Journal of Electronic
Publishing, 4 (September 1998) : 1.
<http://www.press.umich.edu/jep/04-01/thiel.html> (Retrieved 13 May 2004).
 Dan Gillmor, "A New Brand of Journalism is Taking Root in South
Korea," San Jose Mercury News, posted May 18, 2003,
(Retrieved 2 June 2004).
 Mark L. Clifford and Moon Ihlwan, "The Web Site That Elected a
President," BusinessWeek, 24 February 2003, Lexis-Nexis, (Retrieved
May 3, 2004).
 Howard W. French, "Online Newspaper Shakes Up Korean Politics,"
The New York Times, 6 March 2003, Lexis-Nexis, (Retrieved May 3, 2004).
 Yeon-Jung Yu, "OhmyNews Makes Every Citizen a Reporter," Japan
Media Review, 9 September 2003,
(Retrieved May 3, 2004).
 French, "Online Newspaper Shakes Up Korean Politics."
 "Citizen Reporters Write for South Korean Site," USA Today, May 14, 2003,
(Retrieved May 3, 2004).
 French, "Online Newspaper Shakes Up Korean Politics."
 Clifford and Ihlwan, "The Web Site That Elected a President."
 Leander Kahney, "Citizen Reporters Make the News," Wired, May
17, 2003, <http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,58856,00.html>
(Retrieved May 3, 2004).
 Jonathan Watts, "World's First Internet President Logs On: Web
Already Shaping Policy of New South Korean Leader," The Guardian,
February 24, 2003, <http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/printdoc>
(Retrieved May 3, 2004).
 French, "Online Newspaper Shakes Up Korean Politics."
 Edward Waterman, "A Brief History of Amateur Press
Associations," REHupa home page, <http://www.rehupa.com/apa_hist.htm>
(Retrieved May 10, 2004).
 Joshua Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic
Media on Social Behavior (New York : Oxford University Press, 1985), 63.
 Ibid., 161.
 Kahney, "Citizen Reporters Make the News."
 Jonathan Watts, "Technology and Democracy Are a Potent Mix in
S. Korea," Christian Science Monitor, January 31, 2003, Lexis-Nexis,
(Retrieved May 3, 2004).
 Kahney, "Citizen Reporters Make the News."
 John V. Pavlik, Journalism and New Media (New York : Columbia
University Press, 2001), 93.
 Willis and Bowman, We Media.
 Ryan Michael, "Journalistic Ethics, Objectivity, Existential
Journalism, Standpoint Epistemology, and Public Journalism," Journal
of Mass Media Ethics, 16 no. 1, (2002).
 Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism:
What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect (Three
Rivers, Michigan : Three Rivers Press, 2001), 17.
 "Oh My," The Economist, June 30, 2003, Lexis-Nexis, (Retrieved
May 3, 2004).
 Yu, "OhmyNews Makes Every Citizen a Reporter."
 J.D. Lasica, "A Scorecard for Net News Ethics," Online
Journalism Review, April 2, 2002,
<http://www.ojr.org/ojr/ethics/p1017782140.php> (Retrieved May 4, 2004).
 Willis and Bowman, We Media.
 Shapiro, The Control Revolution., 55.
 Ibid,, 189.
 Howard Rheingold, "From the Screen to the Streets," In These
Times, November 17, 2003, 34.
 Ibid., 34-35.
 Ibid., 35.
 Daphna Yeshua and Mark Deuze, "Online Journalists Face New
Ethical Dilemmas: Report from the Netherlands," 2000
<http://users.fmg.uva.nl/mdeuze/publ15.htm> (Retrieved May 4, 2004).
 Mike Reeves-McMillan, "U.S. Media? Objective? It Is to Laugh?"
Wired, May 18, 2003,
<http://www.wired.com/news/rants/0,2350,58899,00.html> (Retrieved May 4, 2004).
 Shapiro, The Control Revolution., 153-54.
 Shapiro, The Control Revolution., 205.
 Robert A. Dahl, Democracy and Its Critics (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1989), 338.
 Ibid., 339-40.
 Ibid., 339.
 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, translated by
Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (Chicago : University of
Chicago Press, 2000), 492.
 Benjamin R. Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld: Terrorism's Challenge to
Democracy (New York : Ballantine Books, 2001), xii.
 Ibid., 282-283.
 Ibid., 279-280.
 Ibid., 284.
 Ibid., 285-286.
 John Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the
Philosophy of Education (New York : The MacMillan Company, 1955), 100.
 Ibid., 101.
 Strobe Talbott , "Democracy and the National Interest," Foreign
Affairs, (November/December 1996), Lexis-Nexis, (Retrieved May 4, 2004).
 Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld, 288.
 Yu, "OhmyNews Makes Every Citizen a Reporter."
 Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding
New Media (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2002), 45.
 Ibid., 19.