Fake Beef Consumers? Media Failsafes and Media’s Future

This entry is part 12 of 14 in the series Beef Protests '08

It’s true that Koreans are not nearly so freaked-out about US beef as they were a month or two ago. The numbers are changing. ROKDrop writes that:

With pictures of people lining up outside of meat markets with coolers in hand to buy US beef undoubtedly public opinion is going to shift greatly in favor of US beef.

Well, yes, that’s true. And yet…

Amusingly, or depressingly, I’m not sure which, both the Joongang Ilbo and the Maeil Gyeongjae (Daily Economics) have already had to issue apologies for using staged photos with fake consumers to accompany stories on the, er, sweeping changes of public opinion.

The Joongang used a reporter and an intern, and the Maeil used servers working in the shop. Who knows if the beef is even really US beef. In any case, both newspapers have apologized. My question is, if opinions have changed so radically, how come they had to set up fake photo ops? Bit of a hurry, no?

I’ve often observed to people in the last few months that, yes, the Joongang, Dong-a, and Chosun (Ilbos, all) are skewed and unbalanced… but that so is the Hankyoreh and pretty much all media in Korea. (All media anywhere, but the more diversity, the more differing viewpoints flourish, the more balance — or so one hopes.) If only people on both sides of the political spectrum could realize that the newspapers supporting their own side are as trashy as those supporting the other side, it’d be a big breakthrough.

But as a short-term compromise, I’ll settle for groups of netizens on each side pointing out when the other side publishes frauds and fakeries. And that’s one of the interesting things. Fifteen years ago, a guy would have sat up, while staring at the page, and said, “Hey! I know her! She’s an intern at that newspaper, and that’s one of the reporters she works with!” Then he would have showed a couple of friends, if they were around, and he’d have gone back to reading, the fakery in general not commented upon.

Nowadays, the internet makes it ridiculously easy to get from random individual recognizing the person in the picture… to the official apology by the newspaper. And moreover, the apology not being printed in some tiny corner of the newspaper, but instead ending up published in a minor newspaper, and via linkage and popularity, ending up on main news aggregators.

Not a perfect system — lots of misquotations and fantastical claims never get apologized for or corrected, and by lots I mean lots! Somewhere, there’s a newspaper in an archive or two from 2002 where it’s claimed (from a misquote, of course) that I myself have authored at least one novel about the Taiping Rebellion, which is news to me. But you know, there are a couple of more failsafes than 15 years ago, and they’re liklier to work on prominent news, more than on obscure stuff like the bio of a horn player in a rock band.

Surely, though, newspapers are going to catch on and get more sophisticated in how they fake and misquote people and stage their news stories. Surely.

Unless, of course, the Internet kills newspapers first. I’m not betting on it, but just the same, EPIC 2015 is a fascinating little flash video on recent internet history dovetailing into an interesting speculative future history of media.

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