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Through the Looking Glass: The Role of Portals in South Korea's Online News Media Ecology

Dwyer, Tim;Hutchinson, Jonathon


Abstract

Media manipulation of breaking news through article selection, ranking and tweaking of social media data and comment streams is a growing concern for society. We argue that the combination of human and machine curation on media portals marks a new period for news media and journalism. Although intermediary platforms routinely claim that they are merely the neutral technological platform which facilitates news and information flows, rejecting any criticisms that they are operating as de facto media organisations; instead, we argue for an alternative, more active interpretation of their roles. In this article we provide a contemporary account of the South Korean ('Korean') online news media ecology as an exemplar of how contemporary media technologies, and in particular portals and algorithmic recommender systems, perform a powerful role in shaping the kind of news and information that citizens access. By highlighting the key stakeholders and their positions within the production, publication and distribution of news media, we argue that the overall impact of the major portal platforms of Naver and Kakao is far more consequential than simply providing an entertaining media diet for consumers. These portals are central in designing how and which news is sourced, produced and then accessed by Korean citizens. From a regulatory perspective the provision of news on the portals can be a somewhat ambiguous and moving target, subject to soft and harder regulatory measures. While we investigate a specific case study of the South Korean experience, we also trace out connections with the larger global media ecology. We have relied on policy documents, stakeholder interviews and portal user 'walk throughs' to understand the changing role of news and its surfacing on a distinctive breed of media platforms.

Keywords

South Korea;portals;social media platforms;news pluralism;algorithms;public affairs journalism;media pluralism