Can JTBC Be The Future of Journalism in South Korea?

As a final project, I chose one South Korean television broadcasting company, which is recently rising in popularity and credibility because of their innovative and new challenges to traditional media. JTBC is the one that I will introduce in this post. JTBC is a South Korean nationwide general cable TV network and broadcasting company, launched on December 1, 2011. It is a pretty young broadcasting company which just passed its 4-year anniversary. It came from JoongAng Ilbo, one of the largest newspapers in South Korea as its own branch television network.

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2011 was a special year in Korea’s media history because some big changes happened in the traditional media field. Specifically, four different Korean newspaper companies made nationwide general cable TV networks, and JTBC is one of them. Before that time, South Korea, which is a small country, was usually taken by the Top 3 conventional free-to-air TV networks, KBS, MBC, and SBS. Everyone said that these new cable TV networks from newspaper branches might not enter into the strong traditional broadcasting industry in Korea. However, the four news networks supplement brought a huge switch that changed the path of the media industry and viewing patterns of people within less than five years. JTBC stands out among them for its credibility & influence.

One of the newsmagazines in Korea, which is SisaIN, announces a press confidence survey every year. According to their survey, JTBC’s Newsroom was ranked #1 for two categories of credibility in 2015. It is chosen as “the most trusted television news program” Picture1and “the most trusted media source.” It was a remarkable outcome because it was the first time that a cable network’s news program exceeded the conventional TV networks. Also, SisaIN analyzed that JTBC’s strength is that it got a high credibility score, but a low incredulity score. It is an uncommon result because most media got a high score in both credibility and incredulity. JTBC’s high credibility is closely due to the main anchor of the Newsroom, Suk-hee, Sohn. SisaIN called it “The effect of Suk-hee, Sohn.” He is the most trusted journalist in South Korea from 2007 with a huge gap to the ranking #2. Therefore, his credibility and influence is connected to JTBC’s Newsroom as the main anchor.

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Many different American media and television broadcasting companies already introduced and adapted new production systems and effective uses of social media. However, South Korea is in the process of starting to think about their new challenges of new digital media. At this time, JTBC, is leading to open a new era of journalism in Korea with two different ideas. One is effective collaboration with portal websites, and the other is active use of social media. Based on these two things, it recently started to prepare the first collaboration with Facebook for the upcoming election in Korea. In this post, I will analyze two different characteristics that JTBC adapts as new digital media ideas, and will cover their upcoming new challenges with Facebook.

 

1.Not Home Yet? Watch JTBC News Live on Your Smartphones.

JTBC Newsroom is not only being aired on all cable and satellite systems, but also through their official website, and the Top 2 portal websites in Korea, which are called NAVER, and DAUM. Naver DaumIt was the first attempt to broadcast their regular Newsroom live through portal websites’ systems in Korea. Think about how this case would appear in American media: Google might expose the notification and a link to watch one channel’s news program, such as CNN News in their front page at 9pm. When JTBC tried to start this business with website companies, many people expressed their worries about the meaning of television news. Their opinion was television news should be left as a medium of “television” rather than other media. However, JTBC realized that people do not watch television news in their living room any more. They acknowledged that more and more people want to consume news through their smartphones, so it is important to access those viewers through new ways.
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Therefore, from October 2014, JTBC started to broadcast live through the two biggest portal websites’ main pages. The result was incredible. In a year of online live broadcasting, the number of accumulated viewers exceeded 62 million. It means 250,000 users visit per day on average. Consequently, not offline, but online, JTBC Newsroom has the biggest amount of viewers. Compared to the two representative conventional free-to-air TV networks: SBS 8 News (402,000 views) and MBC News Desk (59,000 views), JTBC recorded 1,472,000 online views per week.

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It was a great strategy to acquire large numbers of young viewers who are familiar with consuming news on their smartphones, and also raise the network’s influence. During the time of night news, usually 8-10pm, JTBC targeted especially young viewers to deliver the news through live broadcasting function that the websites provide to smartphone users. Also, compared to conventional free-to-air TV networks, cable networks have a limited number of platforms. Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 4.18.22 PMTherefore, JTBC decided that increasing the accessibility of viewers is more important than constant profit. It was a dangerous decision at that time, but later, it turned out to have a huge impact on changing general news consuming patterns. The meaning of watching the main news is not only limited as “television news at home.” It was expanded into a more accessible and easier way of consuming news with smartphones in Korea. Just in case, smartphone’s news live broadcasting could be successful in Korea because of over 80% of smartphone user penetration and the fastest Internet service in the world. Also, most of public transportations in Korea, subways or buses, provide free Wi-Fi service, so it is simple to watch news on smartphones easily and fast.


2. How Does JTBC Use Social Media?

JTBC News is the most active news network that runs different social media channels and accounts, both for the business as a whole and for individual reporters. On Facebook, there is an official JTBC News page, and several different pages for specific corners in the Newsroom, such as “The Anchor Briefing” and “Fact Check.” JTBC News manages Twitter and Instagram accounts as well. They upload more text and image-focused content on Twitter, but short clips and behind scenes on Instagram. It is a great use of different media considering different limitations and characteristics that each social media has. Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 7.29.28 PM

The official Facebook page of JTBC News reached over 200,000 “Likes.” It is a great number of “Likes” compared to other three major land-based television stations. For example, MBC has about 45,000 Likes, and KBS has about 70,000 Likes.  Also, JTBC News has the largest likes and followers among general cable TV networks. It shows how well JTBC reaches to young social media users through their Facebook page. Many people cannot watch the full length of the news, which is usually over an hour. So, JTBC showed two different methods to spread and share their news: card news and summary blog posts.

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Firstly, JTBC summarized important Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 9.10.02 PMpoints with simple images to make several card news. It looks like a card, so users scroll down or right in a simple way. It is related to a concept of glance journalism. Many people do not want to spend their time reading full length news articles on their small smartphone screens. But they still want to know key points of the news in an easy way while they are taking a bus or subway. In this sense, the card news format is perfectly fit with a medium of Facebook, and JTBC well utilizes it for their main news consumers. Fact Check, which is one corner of the Newsroom regularly uses card news format for their content. They upload each card news after the day of broadcasting as a format of post follow-up news, and it is getting popular these days.

Another characteristic that only JTBC news introduced through their Facebook page is a summary version of blog post collaborated with Daum, a portal website. Last year, Daum made its new content platform, called 1boon. “boon” is the Korean word for “minute,” so 1boon means “1-minute.” As the title shows, it targets users to see different kinds of content quickly, like within a minute. They divide content into seven different categories adapting a perfect reading method for the mobile platform. JTBC made a contract with 1boon to upload summary versions of blog posts in each category. Separate editors post a previous article that was covered in JTBC news with different images and videos. The difference from a traditional blog post is that there is less text, but more visuals. Also, it has a clear format for mobile, so it is easy to look through smartphones like card news. Posts are shared both through 1boon and JTBC Facebook pages, so viewers who they can reach are large as well.

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Beside Facebook, JTBC actively manages its Twitter and Instagram accounts as well. Twitter is usually used as announcement of interviews or text-based information. However, reporters in JTBC tend to use Twitter and Instagram more than Facebook. While Facebook has an image of personal social media in Korea, many reporters upload photos and behind scenes of reporting in their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 9.34.46 PMFor example, Pil-gyu Kim, the reporter of Fact Check corner in the Newsroom, often comments on users’ opinions, and is famous for humorous hashtags. For example, in the image below, Mr. Kim shared the article from Politifact that talks about Donald Trump as the “2015 Lie of the Year.” He posted 76% of Trump’s mentions are a lie or almost lie with a hashtag #donthavetothinkaboutitems. Also, he announces when the corner is canceled because of breaking news, or additional explanations that he forgot to include in the report through his Twitter. When viewers ask questions about the reporting, he answered it through comments, so it shows how JTBC encourages their reporters to communicate with viewers outside of a studio. Twitter is also one of the biggest ways that JTBC receives a report from the public and follows instant happenings in the world. When something happened in communities or an accident occurred, many people shared through JTBC’s Twitter account, so it becomes a useful tool for reporting as well.

Instagram is also popularly used among reporters, although in a slightly different way. One reporter from JTBC actively shares the preparation process of reporting (editing or recording) and on-the-scene writing. Not only his career stuff, he shared his personal life, such as working out or traveling in his Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 3.31.56 PMInstagram account; so viewers might feel closer to him as an individual reporter and openly see how the news are created. On the other hand, some people might feel uncomfortable about how reporters opened their private life through social media. As JTBC is a pretty young television network, there are many young reporters who are the users of social media. When they shared their private life, such as dating, some viewers might not want to see that. They can be considered less professional journalists as well. Therefore, I think reporters need to make a boundary concerning how they manage their social media account in what kinds of purpose.

 

Like above, JTBC well utilizes different types of social media in general, both as a meaning of a whole company and as individual reporters. The official social media account is managed by employees in the company, but reporters’ personal accounts might be controversial at this time because the boundary of what can be shared and what should not be shared to the public through reporters’ personal accounts is vague. About this sensitive issue, I asked several questions about the guidelines of social media usage to a reporter of JTBC, Pil-gyu, Kim.

Here are key points that he made about the use of social media.

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  • “There are no official guidelines about social media at JTBC technically. It is for an active and casual atmosphere of communication. Also, it is hard to make specific rules as a company. Most reporters think that posting can be allowed within the boundary that does not damage company’s general brand image. When some weird posts or photos are founded, the company asks to delete it only that time. The restrictions are applied differently at each time.”
  • I made my own guideline not to post political opinions. I manage my social media accounts with the title of Fact Checker, so I tried to prevent unnecessary misunderstanding. For example, I never post about specific politicians with negative tone, so as not be considered to choose the topic of Fact Check based on my personal emotions. Also, I never retweet some specific people.”
  • “But as a communication tool, I actively respond to questions/refutations about reporting, and also try to communicate with social media users as much I can.”
  • “In Korean media industry, there are some expectations for journalists to be serious and strictly professional. So, I restrain myself to post like jokes or funny pictures. However, I use hashtags as a cutting remarks to deliver the points of the posts, and try to reply to every single mentions on Twitter and Facebook messages.”

 

3. What’s Next?

JTBC’s First Collaboration with Facebook 

The General election to elect National Assembly members in South Korea will be held on 13 April, 2016. About this election coverage, it has been announced that JTBC and Facebook will cooperate together about broadcasting the result of the election for 8 hours. It will be shown both through JTBC’s television channel and Facebook Live. After Facebook Korea started their business in 2010, this is their first time collaborating with general television broadcasters about election coverage. Everyone’s attention is gathered because of the first combination of broadcasting and social media. During the day of the election, specifically viewers will be able to watch in real time as things are unfolding live, what is happening as the election results come in, as we share some Facebook data. They also will be able to engage with each other as well as engage with the people at JTBC about what they’re seeing and about what is happening. It will be a great behind-the-scenes look at what’s happening.

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Not only the day of election, but also they already started several works together. They made many videos to encourage voting as one of the campaigns, so they are sharing them through social media. JTBC announced that they will do their best to encourage voting, especially to young people through Facebook. They are expecting that Facebook’s scalability and JTBC’s credibility will bring a tremendous effect on both the Korean media industry, and this election. People also have a high expectation that this first and new challenge will be a chance to break boundaries between traditional broadcasting and social media as an entrance of new journalism in Korea. However, as the first trial, there are some technological difficulties that JTBC needs to deal with. They are doing few trials before the election day, but there are some problems, such as connection and quality problems. Also, in Live broadcasting, journalists’ abilities to lead the flow of the news smoothly, and skill to overcome sudden accidents should be required in order to satisfy both professional and challenging aspects of this election broadcast.
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After this collaboration was announced, Katie Harbath, who is a Global Politics and Government Outreach Director at Facebook had an interview in JTBC Newsroom. She said that Facebook has done working election coverage with broadcasting companies in few countries like U.S., U.K., and Canada. However, this is their first time in Korea partnering with a broadcaster for an election broadcast, so she is very excited about it. And here are some important comments that she mentioned during her interview. (And here is the link of a full video: http://news.jtbc.joins.com/article/article.aspx?news_id=NB11203891 

“More and more people are getting news from Facebook, but they are getting it from traditional news sources. So we need to make sure that we are working in partnership to bringing the most up to date and relevant information to your viewers. I also think that we’ll be able to bring people behind the scenes’ look of what goes into creating election coverage, but also bringing your reporting to people on Facebook in a way that they may have never experienced.”

“In the U.S., we’ve used Facebook Live to give people a behind the scene’s look of what it’s like to be on the debate stage, before the debate, during the debate, and afterwards. We’ve used Facebook Live to go to the primary states to talk to voters. This is a new way for broadcasters, such as JTBC, to bring new viewers into not only your reporting, but also encourage them to watch you on television as well.”

 

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These new steps that JTBC is taking in the news industry in Korea ask an important question, “Can it be the FUTURE OF JOURNALISM in Korea?” Compared to the U.S., the situation of the media industry in South Korea is less developed and the speed of adapting new aspects of journalism is relatively slow. However, the smartphone user penetration and speed of Internet is rapidly growing faster than anywhere else in the world. In this paradoxical situation, it is important to think about how JTBC’s new challenges can be a future of journalism in Korea. Technological change and development is rapidly transforming journalism. And the method of news delivery is changing the news itself, as the distributing news is beamed straight into the smartphones of consumers on demand.

At this time, JTBC’s new broadcasting method through portal websites or through Facebook, beyond a medium of television, might be understood differently. It can be considered as a violation of traditional television news or as ruining the unique values of traditional news. On the other hand, it can be an appropriate way to adapt with technological development, and global trends of news satisfying the changing demands of people. Until now, JTBC’s new challenges draw out more positive reactions and feedback. Based on their firm basis, JTBC needs to consider South Korea’s own cultural background and listen carefully about what people want if they want to be a future of journalism in Korea. Not just following what the American media is doing, Korean journalists and news outlets must consider their own news environment, technologies, and viewers’ needs. My personal opinion would be that there is enough possibility that JTBC can become a leader and a future of journalism in Korea.

Beyond my opinions, I asked few Korean students at the University of Michigan about their thoughts of JTBC in terms of a theme of “Future”

 

 

 

 

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