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Expert Comments

Posted December. 04, 2000 14:12,   


Note: This article will focus on a comparison among the English-language sites on Donga.com, Digital Chosun, and Joins.com (JoongAng Ilbo) in terms of content, language, and design.


1. Content

At first glance, the content of English sites on Donga.com, Digital Chosun, and Joins.com looks similar. All three sites cover similar material and organize it in a similar way. A closer look reveals a number of differences that offer insight into how to improve English Donga.com and how to position it more strongly in the increasingly competitive market for Korean news in English. Because none of the English-language sites has yet to position itself strongly in the market, English Donga.com is in a good position to take leadership of the market.

A map of the market for Korean news in English would produce three categories of news deliverers on the Web: 1) established English-language papers (The Korea Herald and The Korea Times); 2) English sites produced by established Korean newspapers (Donga.com, Digital Chosun, and Joins.com); and 3) news on Korea by non-Korean news organizations (e.g., the Associated Press, and major foreign newspapers). Organizations in each category have their respective strengths and weaknesses. Established English-language papers have wide name recognition and experience in writing in English, but they do not the resources of Korean news organizations. Korean news organizations have much larger resources and the power of the scoop, but they have little experience in writing in the English language. Foreign news organizations often bring a refreshing outside perspective to the news, but their coverage is sporadic, often focusing on major news events. In this environment, the key to success of sites produced by Korean newspapers is to take advantage of their vast resources and present it an attractive and user-friendly format. These two issues--resources and presentation--form the standards by which the three English-language sites by Korean newspapers should be compared.

Effective use of resources is largely an issue of contents. Which articles are selected from Korean papers for translation into English? Why are they selected? Does the choice of articles give readers a better understanding of news and life in Korea? Are there any articles from sources other than the parent newspaper? Above all, is the site interesting? These are the questions that editors of English-language sites should be thinking about.

With these questions in mind, I think that Joins.com wins the gold medal. Of the three sites, the contents are the most diverse and most informative. The section on North Korea and the extensive opinion section give a broader perspective on the news than Donga.com or Digital Chosun. Joins.com also contains a number of articles that present statistics and information on everyday life in Korea. Finally, the cooperative relationship with The International Herald Tribune and The Asian Wall Street Journal allows readers to move quickly to outside sources for general news and business, some of which may be on Korea. The bilingual news is interesting for language learners (learners of Korean as well as learners of English); of the three sites, Joins.com is the only one to offer content aimed at language learners. Finally, the "Today in Brief" page offers a quick summary of the days news that could be quite useful to readers who have limited time to click through the site thoroughly. The "Who's Who in Korea" database is also helpful to foreigners interested in finding out important persons in Korean society quickly.

Compared to Joins.com, the content of Digital Chosun must take the bronze medal. This is surprising because Digital Chosun was the first Korean newspaper to open an English-language site. The number of articles on the start page is small and there are relatively few sections. The site was, in fact, more extensive before the latest change several months ago. In place of news, a number of other features, such "Korea Wide," "What's On," and "Community" have been added. Though interesting, this information is aimed mainly at the expatriate business community in Seoul. It does not offer much insight into events in Korea and how Koreans views such events. This is regrettable given that The Chosun Ilbo is the largest newspaper in Korea.

Donga.com earns the silver medal. It has yet to develop the breadth of Joins.com, but has begun to carry interesting articles that give valuable background information on news events. As a latecomer, Donga.com has yet to carve a niche in the market for Korean news in English. None of the current news on Donga.com categories differs from what is available on Digital Chosun of Joins.com. To distinguish itself from the other two sites, Donga.com needs to carry articles on different topics and to take better advantage of the considerable resources and reputation of the parent newspaper, The Dong-a Ilbo. It must provide information and perspectives on Korea that readers cannot get elsewhere.

2. Language

Digital Chosun makes up for the bronze medal for contents by winning the gold medal for language. Of the three sites, the quality of the English on Digital Chosun is noticeably better. There are fewer grammatical mistakes and the rhetorical structure is more natural. One good way to judge the quality of English in Korea is to look at editorials and columns because this genre of writing is more difficult to translate than news stories. The editorial "Don't Take Away University Autonomy" (November 22, 2000), for example, was free of errors and reads smoothly in English, except for a few excessively long sentences.

Joins.com and Donga.com are in close competition for the silver medal, but in the end, Joins.com wins it. The English in both sites contains more grammatical errors than the English in Digital Chosun. Phrasing and rhetorical structure reflects the Korean language, which gives many of the articles a "Konglish" feel, but this is more serious in Donga.com. A number of the articles in Donga.com contain careless errors, such as missing punctuation marks, grammatical errors, and awkward expressions. Whether the lack of quality control at Donga.com is offset by the quantity of content depends on how sensitive readers are to mistakes in English.

With respect to romanization, Donga.com also contains the most errors. Proper nouns are romanized differently even in the same article. Readers familiar with Korean can easily figure out who is who or where is where, but readers who do not know Korean may not be able to detect this easily. It is regrettable that Digital Chosun has recently begun to use, albeit imperfectly, the new official romanization system that the two established English-language dailies continue to reject. Joins.com appears to follow the McCune-Reischauer system, but does not do so consistently.

3. Design

In the area of design, Joins.com comes back to claim its second gold medal, with Digital Chosun winning the silver medal and Donga.com taking up the rear with a bronze medal. The difference between Joins.com and Digital Chosun is small. Both sites are easy to read and navigate and aesthetically attractive. The white background on both sites and the use of light colors to distinguish blocks of similar information gives the sites an open appearance and helps highlight the text.

Joins.com wins the gold medal, however, for two reasons: the design of the masthead and the length of the start page. The masthead at the top of the page is very clear. The use of bold but clear black letters and the line that distinguishes the masthead from the articles makes the site easy to recognize. Important information and functions, such as update time, the site index, and the site search are very easy to find. This is a good example of the "form-follows-function" approach to design. The purpose of a masthead, after all, is to command and attract the attention of readers, and the Joins.com masthead does that successfully. The location of a banner above the masthead detracts from the overall design. At very least, banners should not overshadow the name of the site because it may give the impression of crass commercialism or may, depending on the type of banner, slow loading of the site. Placing a banner to the right of the title logo would solve this problem.

The Digital Chosun masthead, by contrast is busier. The name of the site itself is not clear: Is it "Digital Chosun," "Chosun.com," or "Chosun.com English"? The reader is left guessing. The red lettering of Chosun.com does not mix well with the other colors on the site. The designer seems to believe that the use of red will make the masthead standout, but instead, it is buried in the other colors and text confusing test around.

Joins.com places a number of links to articles on the start page, whereas Digital Chosun has relatively few. Keeping a start page small may reduce loading time, but it frustrates readers who want to scroll quickly down a list of links. Many surveys of Internet use have shown that a click must be worthwhile and that people like to know where a click will take them. Joins.com gives readers a clear sense of where clicks will take them, whereas Digital Chosun requires that readers click one of the major news categories to find a list of articles. As a result, Joins.com is much easier to use because readers can get a quick overview of the site that will help them decide their next click.

Donga.com must settle for the bronze because of problems with the color scheme that I have noted in previous articles. The length of the start page is appropriate, so in this regard, Donga.com is ahead of Digital Chosun. Problems with the headlines, as I noted in the previous article, make some of the links difficult to understand. Joins.com avoids this problem by providing a clear headline for each link.

4. Conclusion

To conclude, Donga.com comes in third in the medal standings with one silver medal and two bronze medals. Joins.com comes in fist with two gold medals and one silver medal; Digital Chosun comes in second with one gold medal, one silver medal, and one bronze medal. Considering that Donga.com did not start an English page until more than a year after the other sites, a third-place finish is natural. None of the three sites, however, has yet to establish itself as a clear leader in the field of news about Korea in English. Eventually, the field will settle with two leaders: one of the established English-language newspapers and one of the English-language sites produced by Korean newspapers. The Korea Herald is moving rapidly into leadership of the first category, but leadership of the second category is up for grabs.