Changing News Media landscape in South Korea

@SNOW/WWW, 2017, by Hongjun Lim, Choongho Chung, Jihee Kim, Juho Kim, Sue Moon and Meeyoung Cha

Our research reports one such transformation point in the Korean media landscape that started over a political scandal in 2016 and is still on-going as of the writing of this research in February 2017. The scandal, involving allegations for the extortion, abuse of power, and bribery of the Korean president, has led to the largest ever protest in the country on December 3rd, with the estimated number of participants over 2.3 million (or 4.5% of South Korea’s population) gathering for peaceful demonstrations. The cumulative count of participants from late October to December adds up to more than 10 million. A motion of impeachment has been approved on December 9th in the National Assembly, and awaits final ruling by the Constitutional Court.

Coverage of this scandal by Korean media is noteworthy for several reasons. First, the event increased news audience. Television viewer ratings on news programs went up by 1.5 times and the total reactions on news stories on social media went up by 1.9 times. This event also set a new standard for journalistic convention in that many “exclusive” stories were produced from newsrooms. Second, news media ranks changed.The Korean news influence until recently has been dominated by established newsrooms such as Chosun Daily, Joongang Daily, Kyunghyang, and MBC News that were founded half a century or little over a century ago. The political scandal, however, changed this ranking. A cable network-based JTBC, established in 2011, was the first to disclose a concrete evidence that sparked the presidential scandal. JTBC’s sheer focus on the scandal helped it quickly gain the largest audience in terms of both television viewer ratings and social media reactions. How was this relatively young newsroom able to take the lead over half-a-century old established newsrooms?

The public reception of the scandal measured by content popularity.

We first examine the temporal evolution of the 2016 presidential scandal from the public reactions and the media coverage, in turn. First, the public reaction can be represented by the aggregate Likes count received on news posts. This trend is shown in Figure 1, where the news story (‘Disclosure of evidence on political scandal’ in the figure) published on October 24th evening by the JTBC newsroom marks the beginning of the huge public interest. That news story was the very first instance for any news media outlet to disclose a tangible piece of evidence supporting the prior allegations on the president. Compared to the week before the scandal, news articles on Facebook received on average 1.9 times more Likes per post. While not shown in the figure, the total number of news posts per day, however, is similar to early October in that none of the five media outlets produced significantly more news posts on their Facebook page upon the event.

Figure 1 : Timeline of the 2016 South Korea’s presidential scandal seen by the daily total Likes on Facebook news posts. The Likes count has been aggregated across all five news outlets.

Shifts in media ranking and effects of exclusive news post.

Figure 2(a) shows the average Likes count per post for each media outlet along with error bars measured in standard errors before and after the event. Most platforms show an increment in audience engagement. However, the most popular right-wing outlet that has the largest offline newspaper circulation in South Korea, Chosun Daily, shows a slight decrease in the Likes count. JTBC, the youngest newsroom, in contrast, more than triples the Likes count over the same time period. This finding demonstrates that circumstances surrounding the political scandal did lead to a change in the South Korean media landscape in terms of which media the public favors.

Figure 2(b) shows the percentage of news that we deem as ‘exclusive’ stories for each news media outlet. all posts containing either ‘exclusive news’ or ‘special news’ were classified as an the exclusive news type, while all other posts were dubbed as the general news type. In fact, the rate of news deemed as exclusive type across media outlets were proportional to the rate of likes news outlets gathered-as seen by the reverse ordering of media outlets in Figures 2(a) and (b). The results show that JTBC’s rise in popularity can be partially explained by its higher percentage of exclusive news posts to those of other news media outlets.

(a) Average Likes count per media (b) Average Likes count per media
Figure 2 : Likes count change and exclusive news percentage for each media outlet

Divergence of topics over time.

We compare further how this newly emerged platform compares to other newsrooms during the course of time after the convergence of topics among all selected news media. Figure 3 shows a change of topical similarity between JTBC and the most established media, Chosun Daily. The topical similarity between the two news providers that start as low as 0.35 rises over the event to a peak of 0.52, at the disclosure of the political scandal. Basically, the topical similarity increases if there exists more number of same topic pairs between the topics of the two news outlets. After reaching its peak on the second week, the headline topic similarity starts to gradually decrease over time.

Figure 3 : Diverging topical similarity in news headlines between two news outlets: JTBC and Chosun Daily

In order to look deeper into such topic divergence, we visualized topical networks of the two media. Figures 4(a) and (b) are network plots of headline topics covered by JTBC and Chosun Daily. Figure 4(a) shows that most of the news stories published by JTBC are about the scandal, indicated by the large coverage of the bubble. Prominent topics here are ‘president’, ‘impeachment’, ‘recording’, and ‘judgment’ in the graph. Some topics appear as not directly related to the event such as ‘Article’, ‘Social department’. The visualization shown in Figure 4(b) for Chosun Daily, in contrast, shows a smaller coverage of the bubble. A number of topics appear as not directly related to the scandal such as ‘establishment of a new party’, ‘North Korea’, and ‘the THAAD US army missile system’. The difference in topical similarity is known to be caused by differing preferences of each newsroom to focus on the current biggest issue in more detail, or to focus on other topics unrelated to the political scandal, respectively.

(a) Topic network of JTBC (b) Topic network of Chosun Daily
Figure 4 : Comparison of between two news outlets`s topic network


In our research, we collect data from the Facebook pages of major newspaper publishers in South Korea in order to examine the changing media landscape over this notable political scandal.

News posts studied in this paper were accessed through the Facebook Graph API over a single day period on January 10th, 2017. We gathered a total of 166,131 posts, which are the entire set of public posts of five news media outlets in South Korea.

Media Data since Post Total likes
JTBC 2011/11/28~ 17,323 12,612,111
Chosun Daily 2010/04/16~ 26,032 25,210,818
Joongang Daily 2010/11/09~ 47,089 10,634,283
Kyunghyang 2012/05/28~ 33,001 31,655,183
Hankyoreh 2010/08/05~ 42,686 27,194,615
Total 2010/04/16~ 166,131 107,307,010
Table 1 : Summary of the dataset

Table 1 displays key information about the gathered data indicating the data period, post count, and the aggregate Likes count of news posts. The five outlets opened their Facebook pages at different points in time, attributing to different time range of data between the outlets. For each news post, we collect information about the timestamp (i.e., time when a post was uploaded to Facebook), main text (i.e., short text description about any linked content), news headline (i.e., text headline of the news article that is linked on the Facebook post, if any), news video (i.e., video content that is directly uploaded to the page, if any), news image (i.e., image content that is directly uploaded, if any), as well as the count of Likes and Comments. To ensure that all posts had enough time to circulate within Facebook, we analyze only those news stories posted in 2016.

For more details, please refer to our paper entitled: “Changing News Media landscape in South Korea” by Hongjun Lim, Choongho Chung, Jihee Kim, Juho Kim, Sue Moon and Meeyoung Cha, Fourth Workshop on Social News on the Web @ WWW’17 (SNOW 2017), Perth, Australia, April 2017.