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Korean bloggers making a difference

From CNN's Kristie Lu Stout

Web site "Ohmynews" is giving mainstream media in South Korea a run for their money.
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Newspaper and Magazines

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- It's a typical newsroom in downtown Seoul: reporters rush to meet deadlines and editors eye copy for mistakes.

But in this newsroom, some of the stories are being filed from a lingerie shop.

Just outside Seoul, lingerie shopkeeper Lee Eun Wha is preparing for a winter sale, but when there's free time, she hits the keyboard and begins working as a budding "citizen reporter" for Internet media site "Ohmynews."

The Web site is paving the way for a new kind of journalism in South Korea, where every reader can be a reporter and the establishment is being forced to take notice.

One of Lee's most recent stories, about hardships of small business owners, made a difference, she says.

"The public wasn't aware that small business owners were suffering so badly. But after my article went out, people were able to really see that small business owners were having difficulty just making ends meet," says Lee.

Lee has earned $5,000 from her work as a citizen reporter, but she says she is not in it for the money.

"By writing, I've been able to look more closely at my own surroundings and take a more proactive view of things."

"Ohmynews" draws half a million visitors a day -- most are young and male, but nearly all are tech-savvy Koreans out to challenge the elite.

South Korea leads the rest of the world in terms of broadband Internet access, with more than seven out of 10 households having access.

Political observers say "Ohmynews" influenced the election of outsider president Roh Moo-Hyun in February 2003 -- and it was no coincidence that Roh granted his first post-election interview to the site.

Oh Yeon Ho founded "Ohmynews" in February 2000. As CEO, he now manages a team of 50 reporters and editors, and heads a legion of 36,000 "citizen reporters."

"Our slogan is 'every citizen is a reporter.' We've created a new kind of journalism. We call it 21st-century journalism, two-way journalism. So the readers are no longer passive. They are very active and participate to say what they want to say," he told CNN.

About 150 stories are published on the site each day. If a contribution is deemed extra-newsworthy, the editors give it a higher billing and a token $20 fee.

Citizen reporters file stories on subjects ranging from musings on daily life, to political essays and a lot of criticism of South Korea's conservative mainstream media.

Media analyst Yoon Young-Chul, of Yonsei University in Seoul, says "Ohmynews" is also guilty of bias because a lot of its content is not balanced.

"They (citizen reporters) don't want to be objective. They don't pretend to be objective. What's more important for them is to make it clear their viewpoint and (to) advocate to a certain group of people."

Four libel cases have been filed against the site, but its CEO has no apologies. He says the freedom of speech found on "Ohmynews" is what makes it works so well.

"Our citizen reporters' reporting may seem very unprofessional. But that's the merit of 'Ohmynews' citizen reporters' writing. They don't follow the professional reporters' media logic. They do their own style," says Oh.

Despite the controversy, the site has attracted advertisers, including Korean company LG Electronics.

And Oh says the site is profitable, thanks to online advertising, sales of news content and a tipping service that allows readers to reward their favorite writers.

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