A fair compensation structure
The author is a professor of communication at Seoul National University.
When you run out of bottled water, do you go to the supermarket? Most people would log into a digital platform and purchase by searching it or based on a recommendation algorithm. The process of reading news is not so different. There are platform businesses between the news created by the media and the news read by the people. They decide where to put a specific news in what format before our eyes.
The Australian government is to enforce the News Media Bargaining Code despite the resistance of global platforms like Facebook and Google. The law requires that price negotiation has to be done to use news content, and if the negotiation fails, platform businesses are obliged to follow mediator’s judgment. In Europe, similar policy attempts have been made, but this law is most inclusive among those discussed.
Media are not only affected by the algorithm owned by platforms but also get a share in ad profits from them. In this dependent situation, media complain that it is hard to create a virtuous cycle of making profit out of their news. Meanwhile, digital platforms emphasize their contribution to making news spread and used.
The News Media Bargaining Code cannot be reduced to a business issue of who gets paid more or less. The significance is that the proactively improving the news industrial structure to get valuable, high-quality news benefits public interests, and it should be taken as a policy task. In addition, it is meaningful that the code has set the precedent for a government to actively intervene in a platform’s enormous influence on creating a healthy community beyond the daily lives of the people.
The mission of journalism to let people know what’s going on in the world is never simple in any time. Now that there are infinite channels for the information to propagate, it is solely up to individuals to find trustworthy news. While social participation has widened, it is rather not easy to fulfill citizens’ duties. There are infinitely many “alternative truths” as the objective standards to make a judgment have blurred. Emotional response to what’s going on in the world affects the public opinion more than introspect on facts.
Therefore, it is an important social task to create a structure that quality news gets recognized and properly rewarded. It should be actively reviewed whether the structure allows quality articles to be read by readers who acknowledge and demand them. Good journalism requires legwork, and articles with legwork should get recognized.
Moreover, the Australian law is noteworthy as it requires platforms to make changes in their search algorithms and make them public. As platform companies have formidable algorithm power, they constantly accumulate and own data on what people click and how long they stay. By processing the data, they keep people on the platform longer. Algorithm needs to be faithful to the purpose of the organization that creates the algorithm. But content that make money can be different from quality content. And allowing quality news to be accessed by more readers may not always coincide with the objective of the platform.
Quality journalism is a requirement for creating a mature society. Platforms have shared responsibilities with the media. At the same time, it is clear that this policy alone can hardly restore the newspaper industry or journalism.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.