The Need For Responsible Journalism When Reporting About BTS

BTS at UN Headquarters with Lilly Singh and Henrietta Fore.

The journalism industry can be an informative, useful and creative one. Freedom of the press is important, and the information that news corporations provide us with access to is extremely important, and should never be disregarded or labelled as “fake news”.

However, there have recently been reporters, writers and journalists, who have written or openly expressed problematic, discriminatory and ignorant notions or remarks about BTS. BTS, who are global sensations that are dominating the global music industry and the humanitarian front, have indeed been spoken about by multiple media groups, and there is definitely no problem with that at all. In fact, it should be welcomed and encouraged, since the group has truly started a positive, uplifting movement of self love and are exceptionally talented.

Unfortunately, there are still those, with prejudicial, debilitating biases who include these viewpoints in their articles or video reports when it comes to BTS. This has consequently caused justified outcries and denouncements by ARMYs and critics, who believe that there has been a lack of professionalism and research into BTS and what they stand for.

Despite the negative, problematic perspectives that have often been included in articles and news reports regarding BTS, there are also some fantastic, passionate journalists and writers, who are ARMYs themselves! I decided to contact a few ARMY journalists and writers to hear what their thoughts are on responsible journalism.

Lack of context and understanding

Joshua Calixto, a writer for Rolling Stone and MTV, believes that, “it’s become actively irresponsible for mainstream media to ignore them (BTS). Unfortunately, many media outlets lack reporters who are familiar with the full context of BTS’s history and significance, so we continue to see stories from major publications that fail to understand the basic details of the group’s work.” As a result of this, Calixto continues by saying, “they fail to interpret the reasons for BTS’s success, which is at best disappointing, and at worst, dismissive of the group’s work.”

Education writer and proud ARMY, Rafranz Davis’s sentiments complement Joshua’s and she believes that, “entertainment has traditionally not been seen as serious enough to warrant actual research. Instead, reporters often focus on trivial things like tying the artist to pop culture references whilst disregarding the importance of their art.”

Colleen Nika, a creative director and writer for Dazed & Confused, said that it is problematic for journalists to group BTS with K-Pop all the time. “I repeatedly see phrases like ‘first K-pop band to do this’ and constant referrals to ‘K-pop’ or ‘boy band’ are extremely loaded for the general public. If you say ‘South Korean pop group’, it is more objective and not undermining. BTS is first and foremost an internationally chart-topping pop group unto themselves regardless of an industry or genre being attached to them.” Nika continues by saying that terms such as “K-pop” being used to describe BTS are not journalistic. “I do think, though, that when more people discover BTS — and their general message — they will earn more credibility to the point where people downplaying them will be seen as outdated and small-minded.”

Sincerity is important and it has been missing

An interesting viewpoint, brought up by music critic, Kim Youngdae, is that, “American journalism can often hype things up, but in a shallow manner without actually connecting with the music or situation.” Additionally, he states that the media sometimes is overshadowed by “prejudice and stereotyped images of boybands and Asian artists.” Youngdae points out that the issues of “racism, social structure, indifference and lack of sensibility” are affecting the current narrative.

Jae-Ha Kim, a journalist for the LA Times, Chicago Tribune and Rolling Stone, urges critics to be sincere and genuine too. “Not everyone is going to like (BTS) their music or their live performances, and that is okay, especially if they are explaining what they didn’t like and why. Critics and writers must do some research.” Jae-Ha expresses her grievances with the way some “writers take the easy way out and focus on the screaming, rather than telling readers what actually happened at the show. There are very few ways to show your appreciation at a live show, other than clapping, singing along and screaming. Pointing out that fans were vocal about showing their appreciation is fine, but not if they’re going to neglect why everyone paid money to be there: to hear the music and hear BTS.”

Something that has bothered many ARMYs has been the unnecessary use of BTS for clout, views and clicks on certain news groups’ websites. Of course, if the intention of the journalists is to report on BTS’s achievements and music responsibly, then the issue would not exist. However, now that it is clear that ARMY is the largest, and most passionate fandom in the world, some have jumped onto the band wagon of writing any form of article with BTS’s name included, so that they’ll receive attention for it.

We should learn from the brilliant journalists

Olivia Jones, a writer, Youtuber and passionate ARMY, believes that we should not ignore the fact that there are some great writers, reporters and journalists, and we should support and look at journalists who truly represent responsible journalism, and take a leaf from their books. Two notable journalists she mentioned were Liam McEwan and Zach Sang.

“Liam McEwan has wicked self expression that will catch your eye for the genuine connection he creates in his interviews. Most notably, his interviews with BTS for J-14 Magazine were energetic, thought out and incredibly authentic. Despite language barriers, within 30 seconds, all BTS members’ faces were lit up and engaged. As a result, Liam has continued to connect with ARMY so much that on the Love Yourself tour, fans were seeking out selfies with Liam.” Olivia then asked the question, “What is his secret?” She then answered herself by saying, “he knows that BTS has an important message and so his questions always have depth!”

Jones also mentioned Zach Sang, who runs his own radio show. “Let’s be honest, Zach Sang has interviewed enough artists to know how to prepare, but if you watch his interviews with the band, you can tell his research is thorough. He has taken time to understand the motivations of BTS and never asked a question that ARMY genuinely did not want to know the answer to. Further, he kept all members of BTS engaged, which again is always going to be difficult when it’s conducted in English. Ever since they hung out, Zach has shown time and time again support and respect for BTS and what they are achieving.”

Colleen Nika believes that “serious publications such as Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, AMG and New York Magazine have been responsible by expressing BTS’s music as legitimate, and have reviewed them on par with how they review ‘credible’ Western pop musicians with diverse followings.” Rafranz Davis pointed out that Jimmy Fallon and Good Morning America’s recent shows with BTS have shown impressive research and sincere interest in the boys.

The way forward

Although it seems as though there are multiple issues which are hampering responsible journalism, it is definitely possible to solve the current situation.

Kim Youngdae hopes that the way forward for responsible journalism is that the journalists, writers and critics “actually listen to the music and appreciate the quality and the message. I hope they study the history and context of BTS or K-Pop before they start talking about it. There needs to be change.” Youngdae also encourages readers to be careful with the sources and articles they read and support, and instead, give these journalists a chance to learn from the mistakes they have made, and to grow from them.

Jae-Ha Kim believes that one of the solutions to the problem is that newsrooms should consider having “more diversity in their hiring because it will only help in covering all aspects of the news.”

Colleen Nika concluded that she wants to encourage “journalists and media figures to resist the urge to place everything in categories. BTS is not packaging information for consumption. With K-Pop, it’s really not a scene or genre — it’s an industry, and one that BTS has a long and complex relationship with. You will miss out crucial details when you keep calling BTS a K-Pop boy band.” Nika considered the social issues that are often included in BTS reports and expressed that, “we have come a long way in recent years in eradicating hateful attitudes, but a band like BTS is proving how much work we have left to do. There is going to be change.”

*All journalists, writers and reporters above agreed to be interviewed and provide their personal viewpoints on journalism relating to BTS.



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Luke Waltham

Luke Waltham

Luke Waltham is a BA Law Graduate. He is a BA Honours student and has been an activist for transformation, social justice and human rights. #BTSARMY