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Japan: The End of OhmyNews Japan

At the end of August, 2008, OhmyNews [ja], the citizen journalism site from South Korea that entered the Japanese market in 2006 with much fanfare, closed its doors [ja]. First officially announced on February 22, 2006, and launched shortly thereafter with help from the Japanese media giant Softbank and an investment contract valued at 1.3 billion yen [US$11 million], OhmyNews had a rough ride in Japan right from the beginning. As of the end of July, all staff were dismissed, and in late August operations ceased on the site. The company has now commenced a new initiative, named Oh!myLife [ja].

Many Japanese bloggers reflected on the rise and fall of OhmyNews Japan, and on why the citizen journalism project failed [ja]. One blogger points out that while the editor-in-chief was earning 30 million yen [about 300,000 USD] annually, and the copy editors 10 million yen [100,000 USD], writers were only paid 300 yen per piece, and argues:

マスメディアの価値は記事の質で決まるのに、これではタダでも記事を書きたい人以外は記事を書こうとしないでしょうね。

時事ニュースを批評するなら、ブログで記事を書いた方が編集部を通さない分、ストレス無く自分の書きたい事が書けるし、事件事故に関する記事だと、取材する時間や手間を考えると、原稿料が300円では、いくら市民記者といえ労働条件の格差が酷すぎです。

So although the value of mass media is judged based on the quality of its articles, with this system in place, nobody writes articles other than those willing to write them for nothing.

If someone wants to criticize Jiji news, then writing an article in their own blog is best in that it allows them to bypass the editorial department, and to write whatever they want without any stress. Considering the time required for an article about an incident or accident, on the other hand, the disparity in working conditions with a payment of only 300 yen for a manuscript is just horrible, regardless of whether the person is a citizen journalist or not.

Journalist and blogger Yasuharu Dando [団藤保晴] at Blog vs. Media writes of the obstacles faced by citizen media and considers possible future developments:

市民側の声はメディアとしてまとめて発信しなくとも、これだけ多数のブログやウェブがあるのですから日々に流れています。ところが、国内のブログには米国にある「保守」「リベラル」のような「ハブ」が出来ないのです。郵政解散総選挙の時には出来かけたのですが、争点だった郵政民営化のお粗末な実態が明らかになり、左右とも一気に白けてしまいました。だから、個人ごとに好きな場所をいくつか見つけて、そこを足がかりに有用な情報を探すことになります。勢い、盛り上がっているようでいて、散発的に騒ぎが起きているだけという様相になります。

There is no need to aggregate the voices of citizens into one media and transmit them [in this way], since there are already so many blogs and websites that broadcast these voices everyday. However, in Japan there are not any “hubs” for the “conservatives” or “liberals” like in the US. They were starting to appear at the time of the general elections of 2005, but as the pathetic reality of the postal privatization, which was the center of the debate, was revealed, people from the left and right sides of the spectrum were quickly turned off.

本当にこれで良いのかが問題です。私は、ブログ「ハブ」機能も持ちつつ、何のために書くのか、ジャーナリズムの意味を勉強し直して、取材や情報収集の訓練も積んだ次世代・市民メディアが生まれても良いと思い始めています。何も企業体である必要もなく、初めは小さなブログ連合体でも良いでしょう。かなり本格的なサーバーをポケットマネーで維持できる時代なのですから。

The question is whether things are really OK as they are. I am starting to think that it would be alright if a next-generation media/citizen media were born that had the function of a blog “hub”, that studied and re-evaluated the meaning of journalism in terms of the motivation for writing, and that packed in training in reporting and information collection. It does not have to be a corporate entity, it's okay for it to start as a small blog aggregation site. We are in an age where you can maintain a good server with only the money out of your pocket.

polimediauk at UK Media Watch (小林恭子の英国メディア・ウオッチ) reviews some of the problems at OhmyNews Japan:

オーマイニュースが止まってしまったのにはいろいろな理由があるだろう。私は外から見るだけ(記事も2,3本書いたけれど)だから、会社内の人事的なことは知らない(マイニュースジャパンの中で書かれているようなこと)。しかし、最初に鳥越さんの編集長でかなり盛り上がったのに、その後、反韓的な書き込みがずっとあったような気がする。あれでずい分、「自由にものを言える」雰囲気が消えて、編集部は妙に用心深くならざるを得ず、どうも自由におおらかに、楽しく・・・にはならなかったように思う。市民記者もおいそれと心に浮かんだことを書いてみる・・・なんて感じにはなれない。

I suppose that there must have been various reasons why OhMyNews had to cease its operations. I am looking at it from the outside (although I have written two or three articles) so I don't know anything about the internal HR situation (the kinds of things that are written on MyNews Japan). However, at the beginning, people were quite excited about Mr. Torigoe becoming the managing editor, but then after that there were constant anti-Korea comments. And because of that, it seems, the atmosphere in which people “were able to say things freely” disappeared, and the editorial desk had no choice but to start being unusually careful, which made it impossible to maintain the free, open and fun atmosphere. Citizen reporters did not feel anymore like jumping into writing whatever came to their minds.

[...]

3月、東京で平野編集長と話した時、編集室が忙しいこと、なかなか編集室と市民記者たちとが記事を「練り上げる」ところまでいかない(時間の制約で)こと、ある程度しっかりした記事を書く・編集ができる人材を得ることの難しさを聞いた。オーマイニュースが当初の形で続かなかったのは、広告が十分に取れなかった(あるいは高い広告料を取るほどの十分なアクセスがなかった?)とかの、結局は財政上の理由になるのだろうけれど、読ませるコンテンツを長く続けることができなかったという部分も大きかったのではないだろうか。

Last March, when I met with chief editor Mr. Hirano, he told me that the editorial office was busy, that they were not quite able to get to the point where the editorial and citizen reporters worked on articles together (because of time constraints), and that it was difficult for them to find people able to write and edit articles well. Ohmynews failed to maintain their original style due most probably due in the end to the financial problem that they were not able to attract enough advertisements (or maybe they couldn't get sufficient access numbers to generate high ad rates?), but the fact that they could not keep up in continuously producing content that attracted a readership also played a significant role.

At the denchi@net blog, one blogger criticizes the bias of OhmyNews:

市民記者メディアが失敗しているのは、公平・公正な論評ができていないことだと思う。なんか、すごく市民団体のような匂いががするんだよね。思想が偏っててさ。

既存マスコミも思想が寄ってないかと言えば、寄っているんだけど、ただ、書き方がうまいし、やっぱりそれなりにプロの仕事なんだよ。

一個人の意見なら、これは「ニュース」ではなく、単なる感想でしょう。それを「ニュース」と称するから余計にタチが悪い。

だたら、私のように個人でブログをやればいいことなのだ。そのほうがダイレクトに感想や意見も聞けて、自分自身の見識も広がる。

The reason why the media of citizen journalists has failed, I think, is that they are not able to draw fair and just arguments. Kinda smells like civic groups. They are ideologically biased.

If you ask me whether the existing mass media are ideologically biased, the answer is yes, but they write well and they can do a professional job.

The opinions of an individual are not “news”, just a personal view. They call it news, which is even worse.

That's what they should just [write] it in a blog, on a personal basis like I do. That way, views and opinions can be transmitted directly, and you can develop your own insight as well.

Blogger otsukaresam agrees with other bloggers that OhmyNews Japan was not able to come up with a viable cash flow model, and that the quality of articles on the site was not up to standards, but finds some positive in the future of citizen media:

批判してしまいましたが、
私は将来あるべきジャーナリズムというのは
どっかの企業に所属している方よりも、
オーマイニュースの記者のように
ニュートラルな状態な方が一番いいと思っていたので、
非常に残念です。

I just criticized OhmyNews, but I do believe that what is best for the journalism of the future, more so than belonging to some corporation, is the kind of neutral stance that OhmyNews reporters had, and thus I am very disappointed [about the end of OhmyNews Japan].

otsukaresam then writes that blogs have made it possible for people to create a more fair information flow, and argues:

そんな中、ブログがメディアとして確立されていき、
個々の情報発信基地として成り立っていくと
“みんなが記者”というオーマイニュースが
目指していた状態になるのかもしれませんね。

In this context, as blogs establish themselves as media, and as they become a base for individuals to transmit information, the goal that OhmyNews was aiming at, “everyone's a journalist”, may eventually come to be realized.

  • http://oiwan.wordpress.com/ Oiwan Lam

    Thanks for the post, i a kind of anticipating this, but don’t know that it would come so fast…

  • http://blog.naver.com/mabo12 Jeong-yeop Kim

    It seems that Korean OhMyNews(the original one), on the contrary, is still being successful; The reason Korean Ohmynews not failed as in Japan is that the ideological dichotomy and its confrontation of politics is much more apparent and prevalent in all the political atmosphere… Despite that political confrontation, however, there are not many ‘outlets’ through which the political stance especially of the Progressives can be expressed; the conservative mass media prevails. Thus, it would be not surprising that ‘Everyone’s a journalist’ motto attracts so many people despite of a tiny charge for an article.

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  • http://www.anniepaul.com Annie Paul

    Thanks for this post. it really makes you think. even if ohmynews has been a failure its a valuable lesson for the rest of the world in what works and what doesn’t in the blogosphere. outrageous that they were paying writers the least money when they’re so central to the project. the business of editors preventing writers from saying what they want how and when they want is a crucial point. my own blog was started after leaving the Jamaican newspaper i wrote for because of frustration at being overedited.

    if writers are really good they can edit themselves. and if they aren’t good they won’t attract readers either way it diminishes the role of editorial gatekeepers…

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  • Mdb

    This is way late as a post, but since I was thinking that one of the thing which sinks initatives like oh my news is apathy, maybe it has some value…

    I didn’t follow OMN Japan all that closely, to be honest, but I’d be curious to know how much spadework they did in the real offline world. There aren’t enough people who -know- about citizen media in Japan, but there are plenty of flesh-and-blood organizations, gatherings, cafes, and the like. A lot of times people feel more comfortable with those settings than online precisely because of what anonymity often means here (c.f. 2^-chan).

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