Wednesday, August 20, 2008

World Attention in the Information Age: Korea's National Image

In 1941 Harold Laswell, one of the social scientists whose work led to the creation of communication research as a field of study, wrote a thought-provoking article titled "World Attention Survey." Laswell's research tried to map attention patterns around the world by analyzing the content of newspapers, in particular the countries and issues mentioned in newspaper articles. My first book, Television's Window on the World, was based on my doctoral dissertation and attempted to do something similar with U.S. network television in the 1970s. Today, thanks to the internet and some new Google services, it is possible to do a "World Attention Survey," with much less manual effort than when Laswell was conducting his research or when I laboriously, with the help of research assistants, hand-coded television content for analysis in my dissertation. To illustrate the possibilities, I will show in this post how Google Insight, its brand-new service, can be used to shed empirical light on the question of Korea's national or brand image. In an earlier post, I showed how searches of Google News could be used to help analyze Korea's national image. Google Insight provides an important new piece of the puzzle about national image because it shows patterns of search activity on the internet by people around the world. If you doubt this, take a look at the results of the following global, unfiltered set of searches on Google Insights for Search. Just click on the links to see the results of worldwide search activity, from 2004 to the present, for each of the following terms. If you took time to look at each of the results pages by clicking on each of the four links above and scrolling through the results page, you'll agree with me that several definite patterns show up.
  • First, searches for Korea tend to turn up news of North Korea's nuclear test and related political problems. Not surprisingly, the topics covered by the 4,000 plus media sources in Google News and the search patterns shown by Insights for Search, tend to be highly correlated. Mainstream media coverage and global search patterns are both part of "World Attention" in this information era.
  • Second, searches for Samsung and LG tend to center around information and communication technologies, notably television sets and mobile phones.
  • Third, searches for Hyundai make it clear that Hyundai is viewed around the world as an automobile manufacturer, first and foremost.
  • Fourth, the results for regional distribution of search behavior around the world show clearly that Korea's corporations have effectively established a presence in developing countries as well as those of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
These preliminary observations are based on a simple, unfiltered search for several terms. Obviously, much more could be learned by comparing search patterns across different countries or regions. However, I do think the results are intriguing. I assume that a majority of Google searchers around the world may NOT be aware that Samsung, Hyundai and LG are Korean companies, so that complicates the question of their contribution to Korea's national image. It also seems that the major mainstream media and their consistent focus on political problems or crises--currently North Korea's nuclear progam and the six-party talks--form a part of South Korea's image. This part of the image, however negative it may be, will be hard to escape short of reconciliation and eventually reunification on the Korean peninsula.

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