When Roh Moo-hyun heard he had won the presidential election in South Korea in 2002 he gave his first exclusive interview not to any of the national newspapers or TV stations, but to OhmyNews, a citizen journalism website.
Most of the Korean mainstream media had supported Roh Moo-hyun's conservative presidential opponent. OhmyNews, an Internet wonder, which at the time was receiving up to 25 million hits a day, had supported Roh. OhmyNews and its then 23,000 citizen reporters helped swing public opinion behind the liberal outsider candidate. On election day, the news website posted up-to the minute reports about exit poll results. Seventy percent of South Korean voters were between 20 and 40 years old and about 90 percent of them used the Internet. OhmyNews managed to catch their attention and mobilize many of these people to go to the polls. Many had clearly voted for Roh.
Until 2002, according to Asia Times, three influential conservative daily newspapers had set the news agenda in South Korea: Chosun, Jong Ang and Dong-A Ilbos. OhmyNews' founder Yeon Ho Oh told the BBC: "In the past, the conservative papers in Korea could - and did - lead public opinion. They had the monopoly. They were against Roh Moo-hyun's candidacy. But OhmyNews supported the Roh Moo-hyun phenomenon, with all the netizens participating."
The online newspaper website had been set up in 2000 by investigative journalist Oh as a response to the country's conservative mainstream media. Oh wanted to provide a platform for news that would make readers sit up in exclamation. He called the site OhmyNews--an intentional play on the English expression "Oh my God!"
Following the motto "Every citizen is a reporter," OhmyNews functions in an open-source style, with up to 70 percent of all its articles written by freelance contributors, most of whom are ordinary citizens from all walks of life. Virtually anyone who registers with the site can become a reporter. However, contributors have to submit original stories, they must publish them under their real names and readers can leave comments about articles.
The site employs some 60 editorial staff who edit submitted articles before they are published. OhmyNews' reporters also must sign a citizen reporter's agreement and follow the site's code of ethics, which include a commitment to accuracy, respect for personal privacy and an acceptance of legal responsibility for defamation and plagiarism.
After its launch, OhmyNews quickly became one of the largest and most influential citizen journalism projects in the world, receiving millions of hits every day. Tens of thousands of people have registered as citizen journalists. Its success was possible in large measure because South Korea is the most "wired" country on the planet. About 70 percent of South Koreans have access to broadband Internet connections and, according to Wired.com, the country has been dubbed "one of the world's leading ‘Webocracies,'"--a term that means a "democracy on the web."
OhmyNews' role in the 2002 elections showed the power of citizen journalism--citizens can make a difference. Ordinary people in South Korea made their voices heard and collectively motivated others to vote in the presidential election. Because of their action, a candidate that the mainstream media did not support won at the polls.