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Better Together: Interacting with News Portals Increases Civic Engagement

The majority of people in the United States get their online news from websites or apps, like Newsweek or the New York Times, which publish proprietary stories written by their own reporters. Compare these news platforms to South Korea, where an overwhelming number of people access news portals, which aggregate stories from multiple sources, the way Yahoo! does, with Naver News capturing a staggering 75 percent of the news-consumer audience.

South Korean news portals do not produce original content but curate content from many other news agencies, and South Korean populace trust that the news portals provide a more balanced and less politically influenced palette of news and events. These portals also foster engagement by allowing users to interact with content and one another, creating a virtual community.

However, a recent study by researchers Seungahn Nah,  University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Dianne Snedaker Chair In Media Trust, and colleagues Dam Hee Kim and Joshua von Hermann dig deeper, exploring how perceived news portal credibility influences this connection between online engagement and civic participation.

The researchers analyzed the interactions of 1,294 Korean adults with news portals. Their findings revealed that active news portal use, which involves activities like commenting, searching for information and sharing content, has a positive impact on various aspects of civic engagement. These aspects include a stronger sense of neighborhood belonging, increased collective efficacy (the belief in a community’s ability to solve problems) and participation in civic activities, both online and offline.

However, the study also discovered a crucial factor influencing this relationship: news portal credibility. The research indicated that the positive association between active news portal use and civic engagement was stronger for individuals who perceived the news portals as more credible. This suggests that when people trust the information they encounter, their online engagement with news and subsequent discussions are more likely to translate into real-world civic participation.

These findings offer valuable insights for countries like the United States, where news consumption habits are shifting towards online platforms. While American news platforms often generate their own content, fostering a sense of community and encouraging interaction among users isn’t always a central focus. The South Korean model, with its emphasis on user engagement and curated content, sheds light on the potential of news portals to act as a gateway to increased civic engagement, especially when users perceive them as credible sources of information.

The research offers valuable initial steps towards understanding the complex interplay between online news consumption, user engagement and civic participation. As the media landscape continues to evolve, further research exploring these dynamics across different cultural contexts and with more robust methodologies will be crucial in harnessing the potential of online platforms to foster a more engaged and active citizenry.

The original paper, “News portals as a gateway to civic engagement: the case of South Korea,” was published in Media International Australia on Oct. 26, 2023.

 Authors: Dam Hee Kim, Joshua von Herrmann, Seungahn Nah.

 This summary was written by Gigi Marino.

Posted: February 29, 2024
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