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6 A.M.

Citizen Journalism – A Brave New World for PR

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Some of you may recall that I recently blogged about Oh My News, a Korea-based citizen journalist-driven online news outlet created by Mr. Yeon-Ho Oh. So far, Oh My News has signed up 30,000 citizen journalists, who are a paid nominal fee when their stories are published. I recently asked Hoh Kim, who heads our Korea office, to report on a conference dedicated to Citizen Reports in Korea on June 24th. Here’s his report.Written by Hoh Kim, Managing Director, Edelman Korea “One of the key elements of democracy is participatory democracy, democracy where anyone who wants to participate is guaranteed the right to do so. In journalism, however, it took a long time before participatory democracy was made a reality. One-way journalism was taken as a matter of course. The idea that professional reporters write and that citizens become readers was accepted as truth.”As citizen reporters, however, you have changed that. You have made one-way journalism into two-way journalism. Citizens are no longer spectators. A new era has begun in which regular citizens can become reporters whenever they so desire, and by doing so contribute to public opinion.”

(Oh, Yeon-Ho, the founder of Ohmynews.com. at his speech at the Ohmynews International Citizen Reporters’ Forum, June 24, 2005.)

On June 24th, 2005, more than three hundred citizen reporters from twenty-five countries gathered in Seoul for the Ohmynews International Citizen Reporters’ Forum, including a 10 year old American elementary school student and also another citizen reporter from Chile, who had to fly 31 hours. In this forum, there were presentations ranging from a professor from the Missouri J-school to another professor from City University of London.

Many interesting things happened in Korea, which is one of the most wired countries in the world. As you may have seen Richard’s blog on May 11th titled “Citizen Journalists,” ohmynews, which opened at 2:22 p.m. on the 22nd February 2000 (interesting timing, Oh told us that he intentionally chose that moment to say “goodbye” to 20th century journalism), is becoming a power in Korean society as well as in global journalism. In 2003, ohmynews was ranked the 6th most influential news outlet among all kinds of Korean media by the weekly Sisa Journal, one of the major Korean weeklies. In terms of the number of visitors, it is ranked 16th in Korea. Time magazine selected ohmynews international as one of the 50 coolest websites 2005.

Recently, I was visiting SBS-TV homepage, one of the national TV stations in Korea, and found the announcement of “Uporter.” According to SBS-TV, Uporter means both “Ubiquitous reporter” and “You’re the reporter.” Basically, they apply ohmynews model into the broadcast. Anybody can be an Uporter and write stories using a blog and mobile phone.

What does the “ohmynews-ation” mean for media and especially for PR professionals?

In the past, “some people” who have been called “journalists” wrote stories to be placed in print or broadcast. Now, virtually anybody can write stories from anywhere on anything. What will this mean to PR?

There are two aspects for PR to consider: promotion(promoting good news) and protection(protect reputation from worst situations, i.e. crisis). Let me consider the influence of ohmynews on PR in these two contexts. First, promotion. Traditionally information flows like this: a company’s PR department or PR firm writes a press release and pitches it to journalists the journalists write articles and the public reads the articles and is influenced.

Of course, this flow will remain for traditional media, but, what if a citizen journalist – who can be your ex- and current employees, dissatisfied customers who were not journalists in a traditional sense but now can be a citizen journalist, etc. – have different, sometimes opposing view points, regarding corporate key messages write about your firm? This means that leveraging inside out PR and word of mouth marketing will have more impact in this age. You have to create brand trust and excitement from inside out, not just towards the external world. Also, while you still target traditional/professional journalists, you have to consider your communication environment where “every citizen is a reporter.” We no longer can rely on media coverage, but have to build trust, rather than image from the inside out, and create a word of mouth effect on your messages to virtually every stakeholder group. The Edelman Trust Barometer Study pointed out that more and more people trust “people like yourself” rather than celebrities or politicians. This is the age when “people like yourself” can write a story as a citizen journalist and place it in the media like ohmynews.com.

Second, protection. In a crisis situation, where you try to protect your company’s reputation, still the inside out approach will remain very important, meaning your internal audience should buy into your key messages.

“Every citizen is a reporter.” This is ohmynews’s model. If we think about PR in a traditional sense where PR targets reporters, now it’s the age where we can say “PR targets every citizen (who can be reporter any time).” This is why trust, word of mouth, and paradox of transparency are critically important. If there can be such a thing as ohmyPR, the motto might be “We engage virtually every citizen in the PR communication process in a way we can build trust.”

Indeed, we live in incredibly interesting times, both for journalists and for PR professionals.

Let me conclude this blog by quoting Jeremy Iggers who delivered his speech at the forum:

“What I learned…is that people are very eager to have a different kind of relationship to their newspaper, to not only be spectators, and information consumers, but to play a more active role, to speak and to be heard.”

  • Richard:

    I was led to OhMyNews from your blog post. I signed up as a “citizen reporter.” After the 7/7 London bomb blasts I wrote a story on a graphic artist creating a logo of resistance to the attacks. I received an immediate response from an editor in Seoul. The story appeared on the front page of the web site a few hours later. I was awarded 20,000 won cybercash for the story (app. $20 US). I won’t get rich on the fee but the system at OhMyNews works very efficiently, and they run a 24 news cycle from all points of the globe. I wonder how they make money?

  • Bob

    Richard: This is facinating! I know I must sound like a broken record about “The Naked Corporation” but the two points noted here about Promotion (good news) and Protection (of reputation) are exactly what Tapscott wrote about in 2003.

    Promotion is not something that traditional media does well. The business editor of the New York Times has said, “They have limited reporting resources. Their role is watchdog and the biggest impact they can have is reporting what is wrong so it does not happen again. They leave reporting good news to others”.

    Protection is becoming more and more difficult because of the reasons stated – everyone can be a reporter (blogger) and get their message out extremely quickly using technology. In most cases, it is faster than the traditional PR machine can get into gear. Stakeholder webs are made up of “citizen reporters” who are causing the transparency. From your blog… In my estimation, corporations today DO NOT HAVE A CHOICE but to be open. Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability are building trust. The Corporation is truly Naked.

  • Richard Edelman

    Bob,

    I had dinner last night with a senior producer from ABC News I was promoting benefits of citizen journalism. His retort was classic. Will not satisfy consumer need for objectivity and expertise. Viewers want experienced editors as filters. Otherwise overwhelmed by too much information and too much lousy information.

    So here you have it old world and new world

    We need to be part of both.

    Richard

  • Chuck Tanowitz

    I think the question is “where is the filter?” To a degree, the ABC News producer is right, there will be those people who will always want the “expertise” filter. But if Fox News has taught us anything it’s that people will make their own decisions as to what they consider to be “expertise.”

    Is the filter Bloglines? Pubsub? A TiVo box that learns my viewing habits? Or Amazon, which feeds me information based on my shopping history?

    As important as it is to have citizen journalists, the issue of credibility will arise, even if it’s on an individualized basis. So I, as a media consumer, will have the choice to believe someone each time I read an individual post. Since I can use RSS tools as a filter to search for specific terms, I may not choose to read a full blog all the time, but just get the posts that are relevant to me. But then it will be up to me to read a citizen journalist’s bio and other information to determine if this is someone worth believing.

    The issue for traditional news organizations–and, in turn, PR folks–is that the audience degradation begun with the cable industry will only continue. What is the value of a big article in the New York Times today? How will the value change in a few years? Do we need to rethink measurement in the process?

    Blogs and podcasts will never be the only tools we use to get messages out, but we must learn how to use them effectively.

  • Richard Edelman

    Chuck,

    Interesting to consider the morphing of the two worlds BBC.com during the London bombing putting up photos and first person storytelling by those who were in the subway. You are right about product degradation. In fact, some in media biz are doing it to themselves via overt product placement, links to product website from a show.

    Richard

  • Chuck Tanowitz

    Richard,

    Many companies are experimenting with that morphing, but not sure what to do. NECN is asking people around New England to upload their video and pictures, then acting as an editor as to what content goes out. The Boston Globe is putting pictures from readers in its “Sidekick” section, but those aren’t hard news, only features.

    Even as the BBC put out those pictures, so did a number of blogs and sites like Flickr. I’d be interested to know where most people perceived that they received their information, then be able to compare that to where they actually received it. I’m not sure if there even is a way to conduct that kind of analysis.

    In the afternmath of the Tsunami, I saw most of the video footage through online sources like Bit Torrent, since I don’t have much time to watch TV news. But, during a crisis closer to home like 9/11, I saw most of it on TV. I wonder where people of London ACTUALLY looked for their information.

    Chuck

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