Does infotainment change the way South Koreans react to North Korea? Combining Co-word Analysis and Sentiment Analysis

Sejung Park, Lindsey Bier, Han Woo Park


Most of the images that come to mind when South Korean people think of North Korea are negative or ambivalent. Prevalent negative frames in South Korean media coverage of North Korean society, its power elite, and people have perpetuated negative perceptions of North Korea. However, the way South Korean mass media discuss North Korea-related issues and the possibility of a unified Korea is beginning to change due to the political and ideological stance of the incumbent president of South Korea. The leaders of South Korea, North Korea, and the United States held historic meetings in the truce village of Panmunjom. South Korean people are watching the U.S.–North Korea negotiations and wondering whether they will lead to a breakthrough in the peace process on the Korean Peninsula. South Koreans expect the news media to contribute to their government’s mediating role by resolving the cultural gaps and heterogeneity between the two Koreas. An emergent format of online news media is to adopt dynamic infotainment elements in which issues are framed using exciting digital images and interesting storytelling. South Korean media companies have incorporated this new method and rejected clichéd news framing when reporting news related to North Korea. The aim of this study is to investigate how infotainment coverage of North-Korea-related issues influences public perception toward North Korea. This study examined 23,774 replies commented to North Korea-related video clips during a period of easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula from July 2018 to May 2019. Data were collected from the most popular video channel called “VideoMug” that is a vertically integrated digital media channel run by the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS). The VideoMug’s YouTube account had 411,981 subscribers in January 2019 and has racked up 800,729,422 views by November 2019. Both textual and networked data were collected using the YouTube API for co-word network and sentiment analysis. The findings show that the positive emotion was over half (59.55%). One in three left negative comments (31.41%) and there were quite a few neutral ones (9.03%). The word ‘North Korea’ appears in positive comments simultaneously with words that show favorable attitudes such as ‘unification’ and ‘peace.’ There were several comments praising a South Korean female singer who performed in North Korea. On the other hand, the word ‘North Korea’ appears in many negative comments along with abusive language such as ‘commie’ and ‘son of a bitch,’ or refers to VideoMug as pro-North Korean broadcasting and left-wing channels. These results imply that South Koreans might have changed their attitude toward North Korea and inter-Korean relations in a more positive direction. The dominant positive sentiment can be attributed to the entertaining frames using visual effects. The term ‘editing’ often appeared with friendly comments saying that the edited videos are funny, thus providing ‘hard-boiled’ news in a form of arousing people's emotion. The success of the compelling storytelling using a combination of live action, graphics, satire, and wit may enable people to react to North Korean news in a favorable way.

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