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:



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:


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.


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:


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.



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:





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:


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:


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.


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