FAQ: What kind of online presence do Japanese newspapers have?

The good news: Most if not all of the major national newspapers in Japan run their own web site where they reproduce their content online.

The bad news: Unlike the UK and USA at least, almost all the free content (which represents just a small percentage of the total story count in the paper newspaper) is heavily-edited down to just two or three paragraphs reporting the facts, and often expires after a few weeks or even days. Furthermore, a noticeable percentage of the articles are from wire copy, so different sites end up reporting the story in rather similar ways.

What this means: A report that "Story X or View Y cannot be found through Japanese Google News Search" means very little, especially as the context is usually "…thus Team Japan is covering it up!". Newspaper readership is still around 70% even for internet users, so the publishers see no reason to give their product away for free. Thus, newspaper spin and analysis are difficult to find online, so someone relying purely on reading these free sites will be woefully uninformed regarding what is happening in the country.

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21 Comments.

  1. iLikedolphins

    apologist!

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  2. This is must read review of Uesugi Takashi’s book (J).

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  3. Thanks for that link. I might have to pick up the book that he cites in the review:

    http://www.amazon.co.jp/gp/product/402100906X/ref=cm_cr_asin_lnk

    It looks like this is a collection of all the articles related to the disaster in the month following 3.11.

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  4. Newspaper readership is still around 70%

    I’m waiting for the accusation that Japan is stodgy and backward in response to this, similar to the reaction to the recent news story in the Washington Post about the still-common use of fax machines.

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  5. @The 2-Belo:

    Oh, mercy:

    “A lot of homes just are not connected to the Internet,” said Andrew Horvat, a communications expert and the director of the Stanford overseas study program in Kyoto.

    Exactly when was that interview taken? Does Chico Harlan not know how to use google? “Japan has no home internet” is a very, very old story.

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  6. And this:

    “It goes back to the famous theory that there are two Japans,” said Serkan Toto, a Tokyo-based consultant for Japanese Web, mobile and social gaming companies. “One is very efficient and highly productive. The other is where things are very slow and there’s barely any innovation. Information technology is in that second basket.”

    Look – we get that you find the continued use of faxes odd, but really…

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  7. I think 3.11 changed journalism quite a bit in Japan. I’m not familiar with the ins and outs of the press club system, but I’ve seen numerous interviews on TV with domestic journalists since then stating that there was a tremendous sense of urgency never before seen in the Japanese media. I definitely don’t agree with Takashi Uesugi that the Japanese media was all hiding the truth, but I think it’s also pretty reasonable to assume that the foreign media probably added to the building urgency because they were going bat-shit insane.

    One of the major details that I clearly recall is an Asahi reporter stating that when NISA missed a scheduled press conference at the very beginning of the crisis, a bunch of reporters burst into their office and found the NISA people watching TV to figure out what was going on. He said all of the journalists were shocked and he was emphasizing how little the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency knew in the beginning (The source was a Akira Ikegami special at the end of last year; Asahi TV).

    This is pretty much verifiable by the fact that PM Kan essentially hired a bunch of guys without any working knowledge of nuclear science to try and fill in the hole by the so-called pros (Although his strategy is obviously pretty screwed up as well).

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  8. Well we can clear up some of the internet usage with some actual facts.

    The wikipedia entry has Japan at 3rd based on data from the UN:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_number_of_Internet_users
    (This is fewer users than China and the US, but a higher percentage of population)

    Here are some official stats for FY2006-2008:
    http://www.stat.go.jp/data/nenkan/pdf/yhyou11.pdf

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  9. Here is something about the online English media in Japan, from the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan’s relaunched website. It’s trade article, but it supports the claim that the press club has ostracised certain news stories in Japan (in this case price-fixing), while overseas editors only want exotica.

    http://no1.fccj.ne.jp/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=642:brainstorming-a-communications-vision-for-the-fccj&catid=81:2012-may&Itemid=101

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  10. @Pessoa:

    Here’s an ironic comment:

    “Ever since 3/11, Japanese have been telling me that they no longer trust their own media and want to know what we are saying about their country – especially about Fukushima,” FCCJ President Georges Baumgartner said.

    Ever since 3/11, English speakers been telling me that they no longer trust their own media and are frustrated with what foreign journalists are saying about the country…

    It’s good that the FCCJ sees that there is a problem. It’s a pity that the writer doesn’t quite get crowd sourcing (or how Wikipedia works). But I like the sense that he’s asking “what are we here for” and trying to put a decent answer out. They need to focus on the audience they would like to serve. If you’re sick of filing wacky Japan stories, find an audience that doesn’t want that.

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  11. Is Kisha club that bad?
    What people tend to forget is the largest kisha club in this country is FCCJ.If kisha club has any suppression mechanism to the freedom of speech,we would have seen that on Japan reporting by the foreign media.But that doesn’t seem to be happening.

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  12. @VK:

    About that particular article: I don’t mean to criticise the use of academics and consultants in articles like this, but it seems like all too often, the writers fail to ask actual native Japanese people themselves. This article is big on Stanford and Texas A&M wonks and Tokyo foreign consultants pooh-poohing about Japan’s internet wilderness, but horribly lacking in just asking the users themselves.

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  13. @Aceface:

    Aceface, as long as a press club is equally accessible by all journalists and gives equal access to all information without pressure to present only one version of a story, then there should be no problem.

    However, there has been criticism among domestic and foreign press regarding the Japanese press club system for exactly these problems.

    You can read more about the press club in Japan here:
    記者クラブ

    And you can read about foreign reporters in Japan here:
    外国人記者

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  14. In fairness to the FCCJ (with whom I am not associated, btw), they have argued that they want to cooperate more with the Japanese media, but have been excluded from Kisha club in the past. This is why they are now going-for-broke to become a registered public-interest group rather than a private members bar.

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  15. I work for the Japanese media for the past 19 years.So the above post is a little bit toungue-in-cheek one.

    Yes.press club is not for everyone.But should it be?One of the main purpose of press club is to make bureaucrats and politicians accountable at the press conferences and briefing.More “pressure”goes to the authority through the club then vice-versa.

    Secondly,as long as there are Q&A times after the press conferences and informations provided at there do not necessarily dominate the tone of the article,there wouldn’t be one version of story coming out from the club.In fact,they do not,as you can see in articles on Yomiuri and Sankei/Mainichi and Asahi.

    Thirdly,even if kisha club is open to the foreign journos,of which it is to some wire service that is,would they attend the press conference?Most of the correspondents would probably use Kyodo’s English wire service instead because it saves time and they can’t understand questions anyway.
    Martin Fackler of NYT attended briefing by Genba over US bases in Okinawa and misreport.That wouldn’t be happening had he used wire services.http://www.japanprobe.com/2012/02/15/asahi-journalist-claims-new-york-times-printed-fake-quote-from-japanese-foreign-minister/

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  16. @The 2-Belo:

    It’s not academics and consultants per se, it’s largely American and American-educated academics and consultants. They’re necessary because the story needs to fit into the narrative the American journalist wants to provide. This is for the MBA-holding, Risk™-playing, Economist/Newsweek buying audience who consume news rather than take it in.

    I’m wary of vox pop material in journalism. It’s usually there to support a pre-determined angle, and to fill space. A single person’s story can take up a third to half an article, distracting people from the fact that it is more often than not being used in place of, and not to support, proper research.

    I get pissed off by this style of journalism because more than ever, much of the kind of information that can be used to establish the truth (in this case, internet usage, in another – pet ownership etc.) is incredibly easy to get hold of. It’s difficult not to conclude that either the journalists are stupid and incompetent, or that their primary aim is not to describe reality.

    As far as I can see, reality must come a distant second to the production of narrative material to fit their intended audience’s prejudices. That’s what sells to these people – the feeling of knowing, and it’s psychologically easier to have that feeling if your preconceptions are not challenged. That’s how these rent-a-quote experts make their living: they parrot people’s prejudices and dress it up as inside knowledge. The FCCJ blue sky thinking piece isn’t up front enough about one really important thing: the wacky Japan stories aren’t simply patronising, they’re often factually way out of line. If truth is a standard, they’re often simply bad journalism.

    Judging by what I’ve seen of journalists talking to each other on Twitter, they’re focussed more than anything on the emotional impact of their writing, rather than the accuracy. If a piece is moving, it’s better; if it is sharply critical of the target of the day, it is better (the groupthink is noticeable); if it gives the impression of “speaking for the people”, it is better (and makes journalists feel all fuzzy about their profession). And there is often awe for a foreign correspondent having specialist knowledge in much the same way that English speakers can be in awe of one of their number who speaks French or Spanish. (One shouldn’t downplay the work someone puts into it, but equally, it’s not that impressive).

    When a film-maker makes a biopic, he or she will often take liberties with the truth because ultimately the film needs to have a proper structure – it needs to make sense as a story. That’s not a problem: the film is first and foremost a work of art. Unfortunately, too many journalists appear consciously or unconsciously to have applied the same ethics to their journalism.

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  17. @Aceface:

    If you’re a member of the media then you’ll have more answers than me. However, I do believe that especially due to the growing importance of citizen journalism that access to press clubs should be completely open as long as certain basic requirements are met. Note: the only frame of reference I have is the National Press Club in DC which allows a wide range of people to join including non-fiction authors and retired journalists:

    http://press.org/sites/default/files/npc_application.pdf

    And I also realize that Q&A can help eliminate uniformity, but if there exists an underlying pressure that your status in the club could be revoked, that’s problematic because it’s going to shape the questioning. I will say that it sounds like the Japanese press club is changing slowly for the better, but the various issues are not new, according to various sources I’ve read including this one by a journalist named Maesaka Toshiyuki:

    http://maesaka-toshiyuki.com/detail/60

    As for your last point, you’re absolutely right. Journalists don’t really exist overseas anymore, and having correspondents in Japan is taken even less seriously that mainstream journalism in general. The whole industry has gone to shit, with most people playing the role of pundit rather than just reporting facts. So do I believe that opening up the press club to foreign journalists will change things? Not really – they’re all paid to cover wacky Japan, so they’ll do what it takes to get a paycheck. But that shouldn’t be a reason to keep the club closed.

    And as for Fackler, it’s important to remember that if shitty reporters are stationed in Japan, then only shitty news is going to be released. I would hope the FCCJ could help with this, but I don’t know what the quality is there.

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  18. @George:

    Would it be fair to say that the issue is the difference between general accreditation (which is more independent of the subject being reported) and access?

    My concern with the kisha club system, as far as I understand it, is that it keeps press-government relationships in the shadows. It’s because of this, indirectly, that reporting on government affairs is problematic. My impression, looking at where clubs have come to an end or where there has been an attempt to bring them to an end, is that it’s the main news organisations that are more fond of the system than the institutions they’re reporting on. I suggest this explanation, because it would provide a reason why the mainstream media co-operates. After all, they could end it at any time.

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  19. @VK:

    It definitely seems like a chicken and egg kind of problem. The government probably enjoys the control it has over the media (i.e. how much information is released), and the media enjoys the perks afforded to it by having strong connections with government officials. Notice that this seems to be the case in all countries, not just Japan.

    This is why I mention citizen journalism and how important it is to be included in the press club system. This style of journalism is still too loose and informal to be considered completely credible, but dedicated bloggers have done some really impressive work in the past couple of years, poking at stories that deserve more critical analysis than the mainstream media seems to deliver.

    Certainly the bar for entry into the press club could be set much lower as long as some kind of formalities are preserved in press conferences, etc.

    On a related note, here’s a humorous video of a press conference where journalists turn on each other after the interview with Ozawa goes really poorly:

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  20. Re:National Press Club in DC

    Yes.I’m aware of this.National Press Club in DC isn’t exactly the type of Kisha club we’ve been discussing.Japan national press club does have individual membership,but it isn’t fully open to freelancers.
    Kantei kisha club is more like White House press corps where membership is restricted to certain tyoes of media.

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