News Diversity in South Korea

A preliminary look at the media ecosystem
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News Diversity in South Korea

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We have just returned from a week of interviews in Seoul, South Korea and Tokyo, Japan as part of our Australian Research Council funded Discovery Project, Media Pluralism and Online News. In this post I will focus on the South Korean case only, as we still require more work to understand the Japanese arena completely. During our time in South Korea, we interviewed key stakeholders from Daum, The Korea Herald, Yonhap news Agency, and the Korea Press Foundation.

The South Korean news media industry is unlike any other in the world, especially in terms of how the Koreans access their news. Unlike other parts of the world that typically use Facebook, Twitter and increasingly messaging apps (Kalogeropoulos, 2018), South Korea has the News Portals Naver and Daum. The statistics are around 70% of Koreans access news via Naver, 20% via Daum and the rest from directly accessing the news websites or messaging apps (Korea Press Foundation, 2018). This makes the market voice of Naver incredibly loud in the news media. But it is the news ecosystem in its entirety that is also of interest to understand how South Korean access their news online.

Who are the Key Players in South Korean News?

The media industry in South Korea is governed by the Broadcasting Act (2008), the telecom and ISP industry is dominated by KT, SK and LG, and a number of television networks, newspapers and outlets. Within the online news sector, there is also the News Assessment Council and the News Portals. While there is much work already done on the laws and incumbent stakeholders, there is little understanding on the news portals and the News Assessment Council – an area we focus on.

The role of the News Assessment Council includes allocating a Board of members from the news industry, media experts and appoints its own staff members. Sometimes they work as a proxy regulator for the news portals. Twice a year they accept applications from news sources to become part of the news portals, where portals will sponsor the Council to remain in operation. Essentially, the News Assessment Council acts as a self regulating body for the online news sector.

As news portals, Daum and Naver will pay a number of news providers to submit their news articles. News providers are required to accept the conditions of the portals to be published in that space. As the access data suggests, South Koreans consume most of their news via the portals (most significantly Naver) and the news organisation’s partnership with the news portals is crucial for those organisations to survive. The portal partnership enables the news organisation’s content to be searched on the portal and receives better visibility through search engines. If the news organisation level of partnership is high enough, the portals will pay increased money to the news provider (news fees). While the subscription money is not that much, the real money comes from search, which then leads to larger traffic.

What are the news portals?

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The homepage of the Naver portal

Both Naver and Daum are more than just news portals: they are a place where most Koreans undertake activities such as search, messaging, and they also include cash payment systems. They are an online destination for many users, making them an attractive space to also publish online news.

Users are presented with a series of categories on the news site including Breaking News, Society, Environment, and Lifestyle. The front page displays a selection of the top news articles and users are invited to either directly click on those articles or select from their categories of interest.

In talking with our interviewee at Daum, we established the following:

At Daum the breaking news priority is determined by their pre-determined categories on the main page. This is now based on how users access their information – this data is gleaned and based on browser behaviour and not a logged-in state (they say for user privacy). So algorithms, huh?

Users are given a random number but then the number can be reset, to avoid the privacy issues. There is no priority on sectors/genres, it is based on audience, and based on customer choice. The introduction of the algorithm is not to be political, it is to increase customer satisfaction.

Users can comment, share and vote up/down on each of those articles to determine where information will appear on the website.

News Aggregation

In talking with many interviewees, it became obvious that Yonhap News is the most consumed news service (the highest percentage at around 25% of all news consumed).

There might be a few reasons for this including the news agency is a 24/7 and can provide up-to-the minute journalism. Users also trust Yonhap more than other news agencies, increasing their consumption rate. Further, Yonhap are not subject to the constraints that stop other outlets publishing news simultaneously across news portals AND their own broadcast outlets.

So on the surface, it would appear that the self-regulatory body, the News Assessment Council, determine who can publish on the portals. Yonhap is the most consumed media source across those portals, and there is little to no intervention into community management of those conversations. Users determine, through popularity, where content will be displayed on the portals. This model was questioned by a number of stakeholders across the online news industry.

Media Diversity?

We will continue to analyse the preliminary data findings from this field work over the coming months to determine to what level there is media diversity. Other factors that need to be included in the analysis beyond the media environment are user behaviour, the impact of the portal algorithms, user experience, and the age of the news consumers (apparently news manipulation is over blown because young people don’t read the comments and hardly access journalism).

One interesting item to really think through is the arrival of YouTube and Instagram as a key news source for people. Anecdotally, YouTube is an easier interface for older people to access information, and users trust information if it is sent to them via Instagram. The role of other platforms is certainly changing the diversity of the media landscape in South Korea.

No doubt we will publish an article or book chapter from the findings and you can continue to follow the Media Pluralism blog for updates on this research.

And of course if you have any first-hand experiences with South Korean News, or have insights you can offer, please leave a comment or question below.

Original photo by Shawn Ang on Unsplash

jonathonhutchinson

Sydney based media academic. Researching internet technologies, social media and public service media.

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