OhmyNews braces for losses

Whenever people talk about citizen journalism they usually get around to discussing Korea’s OhmyNews [ Korean edition | English edition ].

It’s well-established (since 2000) and very big (44,000 citizen scribes plus 90 paid staff including 65 editors).

It’s even credited with helping swing the Korean election result in 2002.

But a report by Moon Ihlwan in Business Week says OhmyNews is facing stiff competition and its barely break-even results are likely to turn to red ink this year.

Internet analyst Jay Park at Samsung Securities in Seoul argues that OhmyNews was successful because it was politically motivated, not business-oriented. Liberal Koreans, particularly those in their 20s and 30s, have held a deep distrust of mainstream newspapers in the country, most of which reflect conservative views. Ordinary Koreans fully recognize that major media companies have maintained ties with the major governing parties and political establishment that go back to the country’s post-war military dictatorships.

Moon says there’s now fierce competition within Korea for online advertising business, something recognised by Ohmy’s leaders.

“In any industry, no business model is sustainable unless you constantly seek innovation to adapt to new changes,” says OhmyNews Communications Director Jean Min. He adds that his company will soon come up with a revamped version that befits the Web 2.0 era. One option under consideration is giving readers certain editorial rights, Min says, without offering further details.

The English language edition, produced by 1500 citizen journalists and five editors, faces stiff competition for readers in media-saturated western countries. But it’s popular in developing nations “where many people feel local views aren’t fully reflected in Western media”. The challenge may lie in finding enough advertisers in those countries to fund the operation.