One day last month Todd Cameron Thacker, Canadian senior editor (and a staff reporter) of OhmyNews International in Seoul, Korea, wrote in his personal blog, Sound of a Dog Eating Grass:
It was a big day for me, too. I was that venerable reporter. I had just registered with four other citizen news sites as well: NowPublic (Vancouver, Canada), MySpace (global, based in US), Scoop (New Zealand), and Brookmans Park Newsletter (UK). Four of the five have since published stories I offered them... Wow, wow, wow, wow!
These and similar citizen writers' websites, where the readers write the news, are sweeping the world and may help change the face of newspapers. Private citizens have begun to write their own news stories, to photograph news events with digital cameras, and to post them on websites within seconds of their happening. OhmyNews claims to have 35,000 citizen reporters, and NowPublic is said to have 16,000. Trained journalists polish the raw copy, check the facts, and sometimes rewrite the stories.
Newspaper owners and staffs face the greatest revolution in publishing since William Caxton printed the first book in the English language in 1474 and Ottmar Mergenthaler invented the linotype in 1884. If they don't adapt, they'll perish.
That's why Australian-born US media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. last year forked out $580m (£310m) for the community website MySpace. The market research company NetRatings says MySpace visitors have tripled since the takeover. MySpace and its competitor, Bebo, were the fifth and sixth most-visited sites in the UK in April, more popular than the BBC's marvellous website.
Young adults aren't buying newspapers these days. They can't understand why their parents pay good money for ink and a processed log of wood flung over the front fence, containing stale news, while they themselves get up-to-the-minute news and action pictures from TV and the internet for free.
It would be a tragedy if newspapers don't survive. We need trained reporters and commentators to present breaking news in a professional form. Where would the world's myriad citizen reporters, talkback radio hosts and guests be if they were deprived of expert, well presented and reliable news items to dissect and discuss?
Let's look at some of the leading citizen news sites one by one:
"The website Oh founded in 2000, is arguably the most mature example of 'citizen journalism' in the world," Martin Stabe wrote last month in the online Press Gazette (UK). "A staff of professional reporters and editors manage the site, but the bulk of its material comes from 42,000 citizen reporters."
[" I like its founder's name. Oh Yeon-ho sounds like Oh Yeah, Oh No! " - US Wordsmith Anu Garg.]
The website says "Welcome to the revolution in the culture of news production, distribution, and consumption. Say Good bye to the backwards newspaper culture of the 20th century."
Speaking at a conference in December 2004, Oh Yeon-ho said:
also relies on contributions from readers, or citizen journalists, who help judge what are the most important stories. Matt Marshall and Michael Bazeley, from the San Jose Mercury News (California) spoke to NowPublic's chief executive, Leonard Brody, who told them his company's traffic now rivals that of OhmyNews, at almost 2.5 million unique visitors a month.
However, he added, the company was evolving to a different model, where it would become less of a destination site. Instead, NowPublic would work to serve other media sites.
Marshall and Bazeley wrote:
says it's "an online community that lets you meet your friends' friends. ...Create a private community on MySpace and you can share photos, journals and interests with your growing network of mutual friends!... MySpace is for everyone."
MySpace has just set up an Australian subsidiary. This backslapping greeting on their "About" page is more American than Australian (like Rupert Murdoch himself):
is a “fiercely independent” press release driven internet news agency accredited to the New Zealand Parliament Press Gallery and also fed by a multitude of business, non-government-organisation, regional government and public relations communication professionals.
Scoop also publishes a variety of raw, unedited material from national and international commentators while producing its own editorial content on important current issues — often giving voice to perspectives not being addressed through “traditional media” sources.
On July 9, 2001, an item in Scoop read:
And on October 23, 2003, it reported that in the US, an article in Newsweek had referred to Scoop as "an obscure Australian web site." That was a perfect illustration of Schadenfreude: joy at having been noticed by Newsweek, mixed with despondency at having been termed obscure, and (even worse) having been wrongly labelled as Australian.
Brookmans Park Newsletter is an award-winning local newspaper on the outskirts of London. Its editor, David Brewer, wrote on June 1:
I once wrote a story suggesting that the original Little Miss Muffet may have lived in Brookmans Park.
These days, I have an uneasy feeling that the world's citizen reporters and bloggers will one day outnumber the readers who visit their sites. Maybe they do already.