[OUTLOOK]The problem of news portals

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[OUTLOOK]The problem of news portals

The movie “Il Postino,” or “The Postman,” is about the poet Pablo Neruda, who settles down on a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, and his personal mailman, Mario Ruoppolo, whose job is to deliver letters from female fans around the world.
Mario knows nothing about rhyme, rhythm or metaphor. But as he finds out that poetry can win women’s hearts, he begins to admire the poet. Neruda also takes a liking to Mario, as he is such an innocent man.
This poetic movie could be a metaphor for Korea’s journalism. If we say Neruda represents readers or viewers of news, the fans who send letters to him are the media that produce the news. Mario is the news portals that deliver the letters to the poet.
In this love triangle, communication takes place between the mailman and the poet, instead of between the fans and the poet. The letters are nothing but a medium that connects the two parts.
This is a “remediation” phenomenon in news media. While newspapers or TV news function as media that represent reality, news portals represent another form of medium.
The remediation, which can be easily understood as rewriting, takes place when a new type of media appears. The news portals perform fantastic magic shows of rewriting on their Web sites, thanks to digital technology.
Rewriting creates power in a way. The German printer Johannes Gutenberg’s creation of movable type printing was evaluated as innovative because the Bible could be rewritten thanks to the new printing process. The rewriting of the Bible changed the way that people consulted the Bible and increased the number of readers of the book.
Even with little change in contents, remediation allows not only the rewriting of text but also the restructuring of power. If the established news media are windows that show the truth, so are the news portals. However, the established media criticize news portals, which rework the news they delivered firsthand. The media say that news portals are neither the media nor journalism in the true sense. The government has done nothing about the problem, trying to keep the issue quiet.
Meanwhile, Web surfers like the convenience of the Internet and enjoy the variety of choices. It seems to be forgotten that although the world needs news, we do not necessarily need only one channel to view that news.
The current problems of Korea’s news portals were caused by the established media in Korea. If Korea’s journalism is ruined even further due to news portals, the reason for this also must be in the established media.
When news portals approached viewers of news, the established media reacted improperly, feeling nostalgic about their glory in the past.
The established media have not made sufficient efforts to maintain integrity or to deliver differentiated news across different channels. They have also decreased their own value by acting as the core of power.
Changes in ways to read or watch news and news content that are more or less the same among different newspapers and TV channels created an optimum environment for news portals to grow.
However, news portals are not an alternative to journalism in Korea. News portals need to define what their journalistic functions are. Their functions in society are not known yet, unlike online newspapers that appeared years ago. The attention and popularity that news portals are enjoying could allow them to have unlimited power.
President Roh Moo-hyun met the other day with the chief executive officers of news portal companies.
The responsibility of news portals was the key issue at the meeting. The lack of responsibility can be said to be the “original sin” of news portals, which hardly produce any news content on their own.
It is natural for them to feel little affection for the news that they have not produced through their own efforts. News portals should feel responsible for their current popularity because the news they deliver is a public asset. Institutionalization is one way to enforce responsibility. But most of all, the news portals need to make sincere efforts to restore the basic principles of journalism to their sites. In particular, the established media need to consider seriously what they have done wrong and how they should try to evolve.
This will be the most effective way to change the worst for the best.

* The writer is an advisor of the Educational Broadcasting System.

by Im Jong-soo
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