Reading Lessons

My Sunday newspaper carried two items of note, one an in-depth look at South Korea’s OhmyNews, and the other a summary of how Chinese authorities have pressured tech companies to block Internet access to “offensive” topics.

By way of disclosure, both articles were published in the San Francisco Chronicle where I am a business reporter. Vanessa Hua, who went to Seoul to cover the story entitled, “Korean online newspaper enlists army of –citizen reporters ‘,” and Carrie Kirby, author of the “Hard Choices for Tech Giants” article on Chinese Internet censorship, are both colleagues.

OhMyNews was a focal point of festivities earlier this summer when the World Editors Forum held the 500th anniversary celebration in South Korea. I blogged about that event, and focused on the speech by local citizen journalism activist and author Dan Gillmor (who runs his own CJ site). Hua’s piece had the details and authenticity that comes with on-the-scene reporting. Here are some highlights slanted toward my commercial interests:

“The site gets 1.7 million to 2 million page views each day … (It is) privately held Web site (and) has been profitable since September 2003 and is projected to pull in $10 million this year … By contrast, in San Francisco pulled in $6.6 million in fiscal year 2005 and had 1.1 million average daily page views in July, according to market research firm comScore Media Metrix. The DailyKos, a popular liberal blog written in Emeryville, had 96,774 average daily page views, and conservative blog Instapundi t had 32,258 in July.”

Continuing Hua’s analysis:

“Similar to newspapers, about 70 percent of OhmyNews’ revenue is from ad sales. But instead of the remainder going to subscriptions, as at newspapers, Min said OhmyNews gets 20 percent of its revenue from syndication sales, and just 10 percent from paid subscriptions for premium content.”

It’s a great piece, chockablock with facts about an operation that is one of the premier examples of both editorially and commercially successful citizen journalism, and well worth reading in its entirety.

Kirby’s piece on how tech firms are cooperating with Chinese Internet censorship summarizes events that have made headlines: “Microsoft bans “democracy” and “Dalai Lama” from the Chinese version of its blog site. Yahoo recently turned over information that helped the Chinese government track down and imprison a journalist for the crime of forwarding an e-mail. Google omits banned publications from its Chinese news service.”

I have a particular interest in China and studied Chinese history in college. Back then I recall reading how the Chinese, stunned and outgunned by Europeans in 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, debated whether they could accept Western things — notably guns and factories — without adopting Western values. That debate took place during a long period of occupation and humiliation, and eventually the Communist victory in 1949 that sent the U.S.-backed Nationalist party into exile on Taiwan. Now China has indisputably adopted Western manufacturing and Internet technologies — without accepting the open society that is the hallmark of these technologies in the Western world. How unsurprising.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media