The uneasy love-hate relationship between the media and bloggers isn't just restricted to Singapore, as this excerpt from The Economist illustrates:
"Conversations have a life of their own. They tend to move in unexpected directions and fluctuate unpredictably in volume. It is these unplanned conversational surges that tend to bring the blogosphere to the attention of the older and wider (non-blogging) public and the mainstream media. Germany, for instance, has been a relatively late adopter of blogging—only 1% of blogs are in German, according to Technorati, compared with 41% in Japanese, 28% in English and 14% in Chinese.
But in January this year “the conversation” arrived in Germany with a vengeance. Jung von Matt, a German advertising firm, had come up with a campaign in the (old) media called “Du bist Deutschland” (“you are Germany”). The advertisements were intended “to fight grumpiness” about the country's sluggish economy, said Jean-Remy von Matt, the firm's Belgian boss.
But German bloggers found the idea kitschy, and subsequently dug up an obscure photograph from a Nazi convention in 1935 that showed Hitler's face next to the awkwardly similar slogan “Denn Du bist Deutschland” (“because you are Germany”). In the ensuing online conversation, Mr von Matt's campaign was ignominiously deflated. Outraged, he sent an internal e-mail to his colleagues in which he called blogs “the toilet walls of the internet” and wanted to know: “What on earth gives every computer-owner the right to express his opinion, unasked for?” When bloggers got hold of this e-mail, they answered his question with such clarity that Mr von Matt quickly and publicly apologised and retreated.
Inadvertently, Mr von Matt had put his finger on something big: that, at least in democratic societies, everybody does have the right to hold opinions, and that the urge to connect and converse with others is so basic that it might as well be added to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “It's about democratisation, where people can participate by writing back,” says Sabeer Bhatia, who in March launched a company called BlogEverywhere.com that lets people attach blogs to any web page with a single click. “Just as everybody has an e-mail account today, everybody will have a blog in five years,” says Mr Bhatia, who helped to make e-mail ubiquitous by starting Hotmail, a web-based e-mail service now owned by Microsoft. This means, Mr Bhatia adds, that “journalism won't be a sermon any more, it will be a conversation.”
And one wonders: would an approach such as Mr Oh's (described below in the same survey) be viable in this region? There is already www.MalaysiaKini.com, but might a SingaporeToday.com be subject to prevailing the media regime? But oh, silly me! How could I forget existing efforts towards a better tomorrow, which wisely steers away from danger with the ingenious disclaimer of non-agenda-based editing...
“We changed South Korean politics and the media market, but I'm too shy to say that,” says Oh Yeon Ho before he can catch his own irony. But Mr Oh, the founder and boss of Ohmy News, a sort of online newspaper, has earned the right to boast, because Ohmy is the world's most successful example to date of “citizen journalism” in action.
Ohmy's website currently gets an average of 700,000 visitors and 2m page views a day, which puts it in the same league as a large newspaper. But Ohmy has no reporters on its staff at all. Instead, it relies on amateurs—“citizens”, as Mr Oh prefers to call them—to contribute the articles, which are then edited by Mr Oh, a former magazine journalist, and a few colleagues. Mr Oh likes to think of Ohmy as a “playground” for South Korean hobbyists, where “adults” set certain rules and thus give the site credibility. The articles tend to be good, because “in South Korea we have good people power,” says Mr Oh. “They are highly educated and eager to change society.” Ohmy also has built-in feedback and rating systems so that the best articles rise to the top.
One of Ohmy's biggest innovations is economic. The site has a “tip-jar” system that invites readers to reward good work with small donations. All they have to do is click a little tip-jar button to have their mobile-phone or credit-card account debited. One particularly good article produced the equivalent of $30,000 in just five days. Ohmy's own economics also appear to be working well. Even though Mr Oh originally intended the company to be not-for-profit—“my aim was not to earn money but to create a new kind of journalism,” he says—he turned it into a for-profit firm in 2003. He will not divulge how much profit he makes, but the advertising and syndication revenues (from other internet sites that run Ohmy's articles) seem to keep him going nicely.
Ohmy's success has already had wide ramifications in South Korea's media industry. Although it has not killed off any South Korean newspapers or broadcasters, it has forced all of them to adjust by becoming more like Ohmy. Several newspaper sites, for instance, now have feedback and conversation panes at the bottom of online articles and are trying to interact more with readers. Mr Oh, who left his career in the mainstream media because he was sick of what he saw as their conservative bias, also reckons that Ohmy has helped to improve the balance. If the media scales used to be tilted 80% in favour of conservatives, he thinks, Ohmy has reduced that to 60%; he wants to make it 50%.