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State of Citizen Journalism in Japan May 29, 2007

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Journalism, News, Trends.
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Citizen journalism has so far failed to make its mark in Japan. The public’s satisfaction with the mainstream Japanese media is stifling the growth of citizen media online. One reason is people simply don’t have time to research and write articles. Working hours are long, and Japan has fewer activists and volunteers than many other countries.

Another problem is potential citizen journalists are shy of using their real names. Surfers cherish their anonymity on the Internet in Japan, notoriously on the chaotic 2Channel Internet forum. OhmyNews, on the other hand, won’t allow anonymous articles, although the rule can be bent for special cases such as whistle-blowers.

No other site with anything like the contributor profile of OhmyNews has emerged. Launched in South Korea in 2000, OhmyNews now has 47,000 registered amateur journalists from 100 countries. It is the world’s largest citizen journalism site, accessed some 700,000 times a day.

Credited with helping Roh Moo Hyun win the presidency in 2003, OhmyNews is often cited as a model of “Web 2.0” and “bottom-up” Internet where content is created not by large firms but the audience. Many elements of the OhmyNews model made it succeed. As an alternative to the entrenched conservative press, it supports and champions progressive news and opinion in the changing online environment.

It’s important to keep in mind the context in which OhmyNews was created. South Korea leads the world in the spread of broadband access to its population. Over 80 percent of households have broadband connections. Online activity play a prominent role among Korean netizens, catalyzing offline actions.

In an attempt to spread the the OhmyNews model in Asia, founder and CEO Oh Yeon Ho started a site in Japanese last August with an $11 million cash injection from Japanese telco Softbank. By December, 2,600 citizen journalists had registered and OhmyNews Japan was publishing 25 to 30 new articles a day. A veteran TV journalist was appointed to head the site while professional editors proof-read and fact-check articles. Contributors were paid up to 2000 yen for an article.

Oh described the venture as “bridge” between professional and amateur media. “Until now, Japanese have been passive consumers of news. Now we invite them to become its producers.” Oh isn’t the first Web entrepreneur to attempt to shake up the Japanese media scene, nor is OhmyNews Japan’s first citizen journalism site.

In February 2003, an Internet daily JanJan was launched by Ken Takeuchi, a former reporter and ex-mayor. In 2004, Livedoor CEO Takafumi Horie set up PJ News, a citizen journalism project within Livedoor’s popular Internet news site. He apparently had ambitions to force change on news providers, at one time vowing to “kill” the Japanese media.

Neither Horie, JanJan nor OhmyNews Japan seem to have dented mainstream media yet. While the sites have communities of dedicated contributors, they are little known and have relatively little influence. While OhmyNews has tens of thousands of citizen journalists, the Japanese sites have only a few thousand between them. The number of active writers is probably in the tens.

It’s arguable that citizen journalism is old news though mainstream media have co-opted audience-generated content in the UK and US. In the UK, readers regularly contribute to news Web sites with photos or comments to online discussions. During the 2005 London bus bombings, The Guardian ran a blog with information supplied by members of the public. The BBC Web site carries vigorous online debates, asking questions like, “Should Harry go to Iraq?” and, “What will Tony Blair’s legacy be?”

Japanese media have given citizen journalism a cool reception. Professional journalists are chary of sharing space and airtime with amateurs. The Japanese public appears relatively satisfied with the media they have, says PJ News editor Mitsuyasu Oda, who oversees 400 registered citizen reporters as the site’s sole full-time staff member.

“I think citizen journalism will grow slowly in Japan,” Oda says. “It’s not going to explode like in Korea.” In South Korea, citizen journalism was fueled by a deep distrust of the national media, he explains, but in Japan people believe what they read in the papers and see on the news.

Sites like PJ News and OhmyNews will not revolutionize the Japanese media any time soon, but they give citizen reporters a chance to reach local and global readers by offering perspectives mainstream media can’t or won’t provide.

This article is adapted from an original report on Asia Media, UCLA Asia Institute

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