Journalism Reform Dashboard

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: South Korea

Organisation: KCIJ Newstapa

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 17/10/2019

Credit: Dongyoon Shin, Dahye Yeon, Sangjin Han, Joohwan Hong, Kangmin Kim, Songyi Lim, Kichul Kim, Youngcheol Shin, Joonsik Oh, Sangchan Lee, Hyeongmin Jeong, Hyeongseok Choi

Project description:

The Dashboard unveiled Korean media industry’s deformed business model. Thanks to such odd, Korea-specific business models, media outlets rarely go out of business. 

Korean media outlets – both print and broadcast – often publish advertorials not notifying that they’re ads, as if they’re actual news stories. 

The outlets also organize business forums targeting executives at businesses and government organizations. They almost force the organizations to buy conference tickets or sign up for multi-million-KRW programs. These strategies are aimed at attracting PR budget – beyond simply obtaining ads. 

KCIJ launched the Dashboard to unveil the status quo and abolish such practice.

Impact reached:

Media industry insiders vaguely knew how Korean media companies make money, but there has been no news story unveiling the status quo with actual data. We’ve collected news and payment data and opened the database to public. 

The KCIJ’s Dashboard is the first of its kind in local media industry to build up a database of published advertorials and another database of each government organization’s PR expenditure payment breakdown. As new data comes in with new advertorials being published, we regularly update the Dashboard.

After KCIJ’s stories were released, a group of Korean lawmakers submitted a bill to regulate advertorials to the National Assembly in December last year. The bill requires media outlets to notify advertorials as ads and impose fines if an outlet fails to comply.

We’ll continue the series until the bill passes the Assembly and become legislated.

Techniques/technologies used:

The Dashboard visualizes data in different formats such as bar charts, line graphs, tree maps and bubble charts, using data visualization libraries like D3.js and Chart.js. We developed the website with Vue.js, one of JavaScript frameworks. 

As the Dashboard has to be regularly updated with new advertorials being published every day, we designed the website with Google Spreadsheet to allow all participants of this project can easily add new data any time. We coupled the Dashboard and Google Spreadsheet so that any changes made on the Spreadsheet can be reflected instantaneously on the Dashboard.

What was the hardest part of this project?

KCIJ collected and reviewed tens of thousand news stories to spot advertorials, build a database and compare it with the database from Korea Advertising Review Board. To gather government and quasi-government organizations’ PR expenditure records, we attempted different methods including FOIA request. 

Publishing advertorials not indicating it’s an ad and selling conference tickets are two abnormal and somewhat unethical revenue stream for a media outlet’s business model. It is a unique topic that only a non-profit independent newsroom like KCIJ can report objectively.

What can others learn from this project?

One can understand advertorial publishing trends in Korean newspapers and broadcast channels, by ranking of media outlets in numbers of published advertorials, ranking of advertisers, and size of government organizations’ PR expenditure spent on advertorials.

One can view above-mentioned data by media outlets and advertisers. The data is available month by month and year by year. Links to each advertorial story are also provided.

One can easily grasp the size of government expenditure spent on advertorials and buying conference tickets with visual elements like tree maps and bubble charts. 

Project links: