Portals must be accountable
The web has become one of the key outlets from which Koreans get news ever since Internet portal service providers began providing news materials in 2000. Today, more and more people get their news from the Internet rather than traditional news sources like newspapers and television. A 2014 survey by the Korea Press Foundation showed 39 percent of the Korean adult population gets news from the Internet. This is below the 54 percent of Koreans who watch news on TV, but sharply higher than the 7.4 percent who rely on newspapers. But the credibility of all news outlets, both traditional and new media, has been falling. I believe Internet portals deserve a lot of the blame for diluting the credibility of local news.
People today depend heavily on the Internet to get information and learn about the world. Internet service providers insist news is part of their job as search engines. They are carriers and not producers of news. But regardless of what they say, they must be accountable for how they package and display news materials.
Web portals can first of all wield power by shaping the overall order of our national media. Press organizations are at the mercy of a mighty portal service provider like Naver. In an Internet community ruled by user demand, news outlets must follow the price policy of the most-watched portal sites like Naver. As a result, news organizations have to provide articles at very low prices, while Internet carriers rack up huge profits. Still, news organizations cannot complain because news today is consumed primarily via the search gateway of popular portals. Consumers today have come to regard news as free and are used to unlimited access to the Internet via computers and mobile platforms. In return for free access, the quality of news is worsening. We get fewer reports that go to great lengths to investigate and get the facts right. News standards naturally would be at risk when the news is sold so cheaply. This is why although we have a wider choice in news outlets, there is less worth reading.
Second, online news has degraded the standards for overall news content. Traditional news organizations are turning out sensational or soft news features that are more appealing to young readers and Internet users. Journalists probe trendy topics on the Internet and turn out copycat items. They also send out similar headlines to boost their click numbers. News items carry catchy titles unrelated to the content in order to grab attention. Defamatory news dominates with part-time recruits writing news without formal training. The increased number of news outlets only deepened the avalanche of similar stories instead of adding to diversity. This is a pity since news should reflect society’s standards and shape the future.
Third, online news has brought great changes to the distribution system. Free, open, shared and unfettered access to information has accelerated democracy in our country. But unregulated power bestowed onto portals has begun to take a toll as well. News has become vulgar. The race to the bottom is tainting the most popular communication channels of our society.
Portals must be made accountable to the public. Evading the issue won’t do anyone any good. The news review committee co-sponsored by Naver, Daum Kakao and news organizations must study various problems associated with today’s news. We must clarify the role of portal sites.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor of the School of Communications at Kookmin University.
by Son Young-jun