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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 May 2006, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Citizens make the news in Korea
In the third of three reports for the Six O'Clock News from South Korea, BBC News business correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones writes about the novel ways South Koreans are getting their news.

OhmyNews notebook, BBC
Every contributor gets a notebook...
A rather scruffy newsroom in an undistinguished Seoul office block is the cradle of a media revolution. It is the home of OhmyNews - a website where all the stories are written by amateur reporters.

There are about 50 full-time staff - but their job is to edit the stories sent in by thousands of citizen journalists in Korea and around the world. "We don't see that there's a wall between reporters and citizens," says Hong Eun Taek, editor of the OhmyNews international edition.

"Citizens can be reporters - if they have a story it deserves to be heard." Every morning, about 200 stories arrive - and with virtually unlimited space most of them can make it on to the site.

Scandal sheet

So what makes its coverage different from the traditional media? OhmyNews claims it has been bold in breaking stories that others did not want to tell.

When the boss of the giant Samsung conglomerate took his family on holiday to Europe - and dozens of staff were obliged to check every detail of the schedule, inspecting every restaurant the family might visit - one Samsung employee decided this was wrong.

The whistleblower sent a ten page article to OhmyNews and another Korean corporate scandal broke.

OhmyNews ethical code, BBC
and a copy of the sites code of ethics
When it emerged that South Korea's pioneer in cell stem research Dr Hwang had faked his results, the country was traumatised. Many in the media refused to believe that a national hero could have been guilty of unethical conduct.

But OhmyNews had the benefit of a citizen journalist with a scientific background and charged into the story with relish. "We're not afraid of challenging a national icon like Dr Hwang," says Hong Eun Taek: "The traditional media stood by him - we contributed to revealing the truth."

Not all the stories on the site are quite so weighty.

True facts

Yoon Young-Seob is a junior civil servant in Seoul - but in his spare time he writes about English football for OhmyNews. If articles on subjects like Wayne Rooney's foot make it to the front of the site he gets paid $20. "When you think of the time I spend actually writing my articles, the money is very small," he says. "But I want people to know about my stories."

OhmyNews also sends its citizen journalists a reporter's notebook, with an ethical code printed inside the front cover. Its eight points include "we don't invade people's privacy" and "we don't report baseless rumours".

Disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-Suk, Getty
OhmyNews dived into the controversy over Hwang Woo-Suk
But its rivals in the traditional media are not impressed.

At the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's biggest selling daily paper, it believes that 500 professional reporters do a better job than untrained citizen journalists: "We respect the facts, the truth," says the business editor Young-Soo Kim, "but citizen journalists sometimes report rumours. That leaves the audience confused."

The South Korean audience, however, may be more receptive to citizen journalism than readers elsewhere.

This week's Globescan poll of media habits found 34% of Koreans naming the internet as their most important source of news, and 38% saying they trusted blogs - higher than in any of the other countries surveyed.

OhmyNews is launching in Japan and is talking to journalists in Britain about starting a site there. Whether it will have the same appeal in countries where traditional media have a greater grip on the audience will be a test for citizen journalism.

You can see the third of Rory Cellan-Jones' reports from South Korea on the Six O'Clock News on BBC One at 1800 BST on Thursday.

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