MILLENNIAL STARTUP PIONEERS A VOICE FOR ITS GENERATION
In South Korea’s rigid media landscape, Dotface grows its audience by posting on issues ignored by legacy news.
Story and photos by Elaine Ramirez
Edited by Jay Hartwell
Sodam Cho dropped out of studying for South Korea’s media exam after a teacher beat her younger brother, a high school student. When reporters covered the incident, the tables turned for the aspiring journalist, who was now the one being interviewed by the press. That was when she experienced what Cho calls the superficiality of Korea’s traditional news outlets — ask a few questions prodding for emotional quotes by
That was when she experienced what Cho calls the superficiality of Korea’s traditional news outlets — ask a few questions prodding for emotional quotes by deadline, then sensationalize the story without getting to know the victim’s situation.
Seeking a more intimate connection with subjects is what fueled Cho, 27, to start Dotface — a new, social-native video outlet for South Korean millennials launched last September.
Dotface has focused its coverage on five areas it deems important to a younger generation: social justice, LGBTQ issues, feminism, urban ecology and how technological development impacts societies.
Last summer, traditional outlets covered a gay pride parade near Seoul City Hall as a social conflict story: conservatives versus liberals, Christians versus LGBTQ, traditional values versus loosening social mores. But Cho focused on the presence of parents of LGBTQ children who were offering free hugs to the crowd.
“I looked at all the reports later that night, and this scene was not mentioned once. In contrast, we were able to cover this because we had our own subjective standard — that embracing diversity is something to be valued,” Cho said.
Dotface’s video covering that scene went viral, amassing 4.9 million views on Facebook.
Cho believes younger Koreans are thirsting for media content that goes beyond conglomerate news, dense political coverage and rewrites of government press releases. She said her friends often share poorly translated articles and videos from U.S.-based online media about everything from job interviews to not wearing bras, just for something new to read.
While 70 percent of Koreans head regularly to major portals like Naver and Daum for news, Dotface is attracting its audience through social media. Its niche is on platforms like Facebook and the Korean app Pikicast, where 20-somethings congregate over news of mutual interest and share open comments. Dotface’s videos get around 6 million views a month, with 42 percent of its Facebook users between the ages of 18 and 24.
“Our goal is not just to become a good media company, but to provide people with different knowledge,” Cho said. “We want to become a media outlet that will help the millennial generation find identity and values that will be needed to prepare for the society of 10 years from now.”
Traditional outlets, like the national broadcaster Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), have set up their own social media teams to create Facebook-friendly video clips targeted at younger audiences. Legacy media outlets might be able to create content in these newer formats, but Cho said they can’t change their institutional voice, bound by the constraints of having to accommodate older generations and pro-government self-censorship.
South Korean distrust in journalists and news organizations is higher than in the U.S., U.K., and other Asian countries, according to a Reuters Institute report. These issues came to the fore again when major broadcasters, whose leaders are governmentappointed, were criticized for undercovering the first burst of protests last year against impeached President Park Geun-hye.
“Traditional media tries to make content to target people in their 20s, but the audience doesn’t feel like that is their voice,” she said. “It’s not just having media that people listen to, but media that they can actually communicate with.”
Cho is confident that with the launching of more media startups that fall between legacy media and Facebook-only verticals, the South Korean media landscape will see a revolution.
“Entertainment agencies are trying to become media companies, and they can actually push aside content from traditional media,” Cho said. “So in reality, with all the new competition coming in, if it isn’t fun, it’s hard to survive. It’s the same for news.”
This is a revision of an article originally published by Nieman Journalism Lab on April 5, 2017. Republished with permission. Ryu Ji-min contributed to this article. Elaine Ramirez can be reached at email@example.com.