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Wanted: 100,000 Supporters To Save OhmyNews
Within hours, thousands of readers pledged support
Jean K. Min (jean)     Print Article 
Published 2009-07-10 10:10 (KST)   
OhmyNews is eyeing 100,000 supporters in 3 three years
©2009 OhmyNews
OhmyNews, a pioneering Korean citizen journalism site, lost KRW 500 million or about US$400,000 this year alone, Oh Yeon-ho, the founder and CEO of OhmyNews disclosed in an open letter published on its news site on July 8. And he fears it would lose more money as advertisers keep slashing marketing budget amid the global financial crisis.

Mr. Oh believes, however, if 100,000 readers join OhmyNews as supporters, paying 10,000 won a month, it would achieve its financial independence without necessarily relying on advertising dollars.

"I have always believed that if we are truly a citizen participatory Internet media, then the contributions from readers should be at least half of the total revenue," Oh said. "About 70 to 80 percent of OhmyNews revenue come from corporate advertising and sponsorships."

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Launched in 2000, two years before the Presidential election, OhmyNews quickly rose to prominence by providing a voice for young online readers and mostly liberal political groups. The site has been largely credited for the successful campaign of the reformist president Roh Moo-hyun.

Roh killed himself last May in a shocking move that surprised his supporters and political adversaries alike. He had to endure mounting pressure from his opponents, while the Korean attorney's office grilled him with a highly controversial investigation on his alleged slush fund scandal.

OhmyNews has gradually lost its standing for the past couple of years, however, as competing citizen media platforms started to attract its core young Korean readers. The recent global financial meltdown was another blow to its shaky financial structure.

Despite its dwindling status, OhmyNews still enjoys strong influence among young Korean readers interested in the politics, and during the massive candle light protest last year against import of the potentially contaminated US beef, the site demonstrated that it can always bite back with a formidable force.

Since its inception, OhmyNews has relied on citizen reporters for more than 70 percent of its news content. The site has already achieved its editorial independence at the content side this way.

Can OhmyNews pull off another miracle in the finance side as well and stand up again as a sustainable media business?

Early signs seem to say yes. Less than 24 hours after OhmyNews asked its readers to join the site as supporters, some 1100 readers have confirmed their financial contribution, with 1825 pledging the commitment according to an online counter posted in the contribution page.

Mr. Oh's tactic is well known among some American advocacy media, notably Pat Robertson, a conservative Christian televangelists. Fund-raising as a means for supporting a media organization has traditionally been a favorite strategy of many partisan and religious media.

If so, it would not be a pure coincidence that Mr. Oh had attended classes on the media management in Regent University before he launched his citizen media venture in Korea.

No wonder the most enthusiastic early participants so far seem to be liberal types frustrated with the overtly conservative policies of the incumbent government. It is doubtful, however, if OhmyNews' direct appeal to readers for a financial commitment will work elsewhere if your media is serving the non-partisan general audience.

Partisan or not, OhmyNews is hoping that up to 10,000 supporters will join the site by the year-end, realizing a financial turn around by then. It remains to be seen, however, if the current momentum will hold up even after the initial buzz and enthusiasm starts to dissipate.
*For more musing on Korean tech issues and memosphere, please visit my blog; Planet Size Brain (link: http://planetsizebrain.tistory.com)
©2009 OhmyNews

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