Softbank buys into “citizen journalism”

My boss at, Angus Frame, doesn’t like the term “citizen journalism.” He says – and I quote – that it’s “a crock.” But he doesn’t mean that the concept is a crock – I think he means that the term itself is a crock, in that it makes it sound like some kind of brigade of citizens with fedoras (with cards that say “Press” stuck in them) and notebooks, fanning out across the land looking to right wrongs and triumph over evil (to quote Sailor Moon). He prefers to call it “user-generated content,” and for him it covers everything from e-mailed cellphone shots to reports from crime scenes to shared bookmarks.

There have been a number of experiments with the concept of citizen journalism, including Bayosphere, a high-profile – but ultimately failed – attempt by online journalism pioneer Dan Gillmor to marshall the forces of interested Bay residents. Dan has written about why Bayosphere didn’t work, and one reason could be that it was too rigid and structured.

At the other end of the spectrum is OhMyNews, a “citizen media” experiment that began in South Korea. And now OhMyNews has gotten a huge vote of confidence from Softbank, the Japanese venture capital outfit, which has bought about 13 per cent of the equity in the venture for $11-million. OhMyNews said that it plans to use the money to start a Japanese site, which is the first step in an international expansion.

OhMyNews has been written about many times, including in Wired magazine and in Newsweek. The venture began six years ago, and by the time Wired wrote about it in 2003 there were 40 editors and the site published about 200 stories a day – most of which came from some of the service’s 26,000 registered citizen journalists. By the next year, when Newsweek wrote about it, the site had more than 750,000 unique visitors a day. By way of comparison, – a leading Canadian news site that covers Canada and the world – gets about half that.

Amy Gahran of I Reporter and The Right Conversation has some more thoughts on the future of citizen journalism here.

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