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Expert Comments

Posted November. 20, 2000 11:28,   



1. Contents

One important content area that has been overlooked in the preceding three articles is business and financial news in the "Money & Biz" section. Understandably, most of the articles in this focus on headline-making news, such as the problems with Daewoo Motors and Hyundai Construction. These issues are vitally important and of interest to most readers. The problem is that they need to be balanced with news about positive developments in Korean business. The venture boom of 1998 and 1999 may have faded from the headlines somewhat, but much of the energy that fed the boom remains. In addition to the venture boom, there have been a number of changes in management practices since the economic crisis of 1997 that have change the face of business in Korea. Many of the positive developments in the Korean economy are reported in the technology section of Korean Donga.com, but reports focus on technical developments rather than on what these developments mean for Korean business. An example of an interesting article on venture issues is "Foreign Venture Capital Firms Eye Korea" that appeared on November 19, 2000, as this article was going to press.

Many major news and information websites include contents from external sources. For example, MSNBC.com includes articles from The Washington Post. In Japan, the English page of Asahi.com includes articles from The New York Times. All of the major portal sites rely on newswires and other sources for their news. Rather than being a sign of weakness, outsourcing and content exchange help related websites pool their resources to provide better service for their customers.

Given that no major English-language website contains outsourced articles, English Donga.com could gain a distinct edge over the competition by entering into such agreements. English Donga.com could, for example, run articles on Korea published by foreign newspapers that have an exchange agreement with the Dong-a Ilbo. The Dong-a Ibo has had a long-standing relationship with the Asahi Shimbun, so perhaps Donga.com could run translations of selected Asahi Shimbun articles on Korea. English Donga.com could enter into agreements with other English-language websites that report frequently on Korea to exchange contents. It could also enter into agreements with one or more of the major English-language newswires (including the English version of the Yonhap wire) to put Korea-related contents on the site. Another option would be to take advantage of free webfeed services that provide headline news and links to articles on a selected subject. One such service is Moreover.com. An example of Moreover.com's Korean news can be found on Yuldo.net (http://yuldo.net), a website on Korean studies that I opened last year. Content exchanges and free webfeeds will allow English Donga.com to diversify contents almost instantly and will help make English Donga.com one of the premier sources of news on Korea.

2. Language

Over the past fortnight, I have noticed problems with headlines used in English Donga.com. Writing eye-catching headlines is an art, but there are several differences in headline usage in Korean and English that need to be considered. Compared to Korean headlines, English headlines are relatively short. A sub-headline is often included to give more information, but the main headline is short. English headlines, particularly in "serious" newspapers, avoid colloquial language and the use of quotations. Colloquial language and the use of quotations is reserved for human-interest stories and tabloids. A quick look at the use of headlines in The New York Times and The New York Post, a spicy tabloid, will make this clear.

One problem with headlines in English Donga.com is the use of quotations. Examples of this in recent days are "I am also ashamed of my performance in 'The Legend of Gingko II'" and "Don't worry, my brother." Each appeared on the main page from November 17-18, 2000. The problem with these headlines is that nobody knows what they mean. "Don't worry, my brother," sounds like a human-interest story, which makes readers wonder what it is doing in the "Money & Biz" section. Either of these headlines would be fine as sub-headlines because the main headline would tell what the article is about. The use of lively quotations is less of a problem in Korean, but it does not work well in English, unless, of course, English Donga.com is attempting to market itself as a tabloid.

Another problem with the headlines is the overuse of abbreviations. The headline "Oct. sees largest no. of bankrupt companies this year" is a recent example of this. It would be better if it were rewritten as "Bankruptcies Hit High for Year in October." The first is nine letters and uses two unsightly abbreviations; the second is seven letters, without abbreviations.

Finally, there is the problem of grammar in headlines. Headlines are full of omissions that would not be tolerated in normal prose. Many of the headlines in English Donga.com are full sentences that could be reduced by following conventions in headline writing that are used by most papers. One curious grammatical issue in headlines was the headline "Workers' rally against restructuring" on November 19, 2000. The grammar of the headline is fine, but on first read, most native speakers of English would read, "rally" as a verb, and then wonder why "workers" appears in its plural possessive form. Unlike Korean, where the verb "hada" is often omitted in headlines, English headlines make use of strong verbs to attract reader interest. It would thus be more natural for the headline to read: "Workers rally against restructuring." A simple rule to follow is to make sure that headlines have a clear subject and strong verb.

3. Design

In the previous two articles, I discussed the issue of search functions on Donga.com. In this article, I turn my attention to a related issue: Use of plug-ins and other tools. Because many readers are Korean learners of English or English-speaking learners of Korean, more attention should be given to the needs of language learners. Several websites overseas use innovative plug-ins and tools to help language learners. Perhaps the best example is the use of the Sentius RichLink plug-in on the English site of Asahi.com. The program highlights selected English words when the cursor rolls over them. Users can click the word to bring up a pop-up window that contains a Japanese translation of the word and the pronunciation given in the International Phonetic Alphabet. This allows language learners to use RichLink-formatted articles for language study. Another example of an innovative tool is the LearningNetwork site on The New York Times website. Users click the vocabulary function, which brings up a page with links from selected words to the online version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com). Though this is aimed mainly at native-speakers, it is also useful to learners of English. Articles in Korean Donga.com already contain links to an online dictionary of keywords in the news and biographies; indeed Donga.com was the first major news website in Korea to add hypertext to its articles. Adding hypertext for language learners to articles in English Donga.com would be an appropriate follow-up to this achievement. It would be more useful than a collection of links to sites on learning English because many other websites in Korea use this format.

Finally, I call your attention to a routine technical issue: the basic encoding of the page. At present, the KS code (ks_c_5601-1987) is being used as the main character encoding for English Donga.com. The use of the KS code presents a number of problems because many computers overseas do not have KS code fonts installed. Viewing the site in the Latin 1 (iso-8859-1) code, which is common for English-language sites and Unicode (UTF-8), which is slowly becoming the global standard, causes a number of minor problems. Apostrophes and other punctuation marks often become funny-looking blotches of lines. At times, quotation marks do not come out properly. When displayed in Unicode, the organization of the page becomes distorted. In the case of the Japanese and Chinese Donga.com sites, both use the most common encoding used for those languages, so it seems logical to use the most common encode for English-language websites as well. At present, that is the Latin 1, but Unicode is also a good choice, particularly because it is now the basic code for Windows operating systems. I recommend that the use of the KS code be phased out in favor of Unicode, which will become the world standard in the next five years.