Japan: Crisis in primary news reporting

The shifting landscape of news media in Japan has triggered its fair share of debate recently, with many criticizing the mainstream press for its slip-ups and what some perceive as an attitude problem. Monthly and weekly magazines, meanwhile, are one by one disappearing from the shelves, faced with dwindling sales and a new market environment. Online alternatives such as citizen journalism, on the other hand, yet to reach their full potential elsewhere, have faced major challenges locally, one major South Korean player already having given up on its attempt to enter the Japanese market.

All of this leaves the question: where will primary news come from in the future, if not from mainstream media? One answer is web media companies and news aggregators, but these sources have faced criticisms of their own lately. On August 4th in a popular entry at Hatena's AnonymousDiary, one anonymous blogger provided an insider's perspective on this question, recounting the story of a friend who works as a fledgling reporter at a major Japanese newspaper. The entry, which drew over 450 bookmarks, begins:


I heard this [story] just the other day, while drinking with a friend of mine who works as a new reporter for a major newspaper company.
This friend of mine who works at this newspaper company was at one point in charge of handling a certain article.
In other words, this was a news story that he himself collected information for, that he himself framed and made into an article.
It wasn't a huge story or anything, but there seemed to have been quite a large number of people who read it.
Because this is major media, however, there are limits on the degree to which you can play up a story to make it funny or interesting — I mean, this article went through a check with the editor [before it was published].
The news from this newspaper company is distributed not only on its own site, but also to portal sites; although it was featured in the economics sections of a few portal sites, though, it didn't attract any more attention and [the story] apparently ended there.
(but there were people who saw the article, and it got more than 20 bookmarks at Hatena Bookmarks)

The blogger then describes the “arrival of the crisis”:


The problem happened the next day.
This friend happened to read his news story in the TOPIX column of a major portal site.
Except that this was not the article that he himself had written, but was instead featured as the news of XYZ, a Web-based media company.
This media company had taken almost exactly the same news content, fleshed it out just a bit, and then published it as news.
This was a story that belonged exclusively to this reporter friend of mine, so right away he took [what happened] as himself having been “ripped off”.
On top of this, the media [company] that had ripped him off was a small independent company with only a few dozen employees, so they had played up the title to make it more funny and interesting, aiming to get more attention on the Web. As a result, [the article] was in the end picked up by a major portal site.

The next section is titled “The words of Mr. A”:


So my friend right away reported what happened to Mr. A, his editor boss.
“Ah, this company XYZ, they steal our articles a lot.”
“It's bad morals, but well, it's not unusual in the industry.”
Maybe he was busy or something, but that was apparently the extent to which [Mr. A] responded to what happened.
It's true that the style [of the article] had been changed, and the information had been fleshed out, so it would not appear to have constituted copyright infringement.
Still: “Just editing on a computer, and with only one extra phone call interview, someone takes content that a reporter went out on his two feet to collect, more or less rips it off and makes it into news. As a media company, and news reporters, is this company not ashamed?”
This is what my friend asked me, his face red from drinking.

In the next section, the blogger describes the disappearance of the “stoic reporter”:

Web メディアなんてそう儲からないビジネスモデルだろうから、たくさんの記者を抱える資本も売上のなく、結果的に大手新聞社の記事をパクるしか、情報の取得ができないのだろうけど、でもそうなると、足を使って一次情報を得ている記者は、バカ正直みたいな立場になってしまう。

The editor Mr. A knows about this other media company, and apparently explained that, “The president of that company is the former editor of a famous weekly paper.”
Among the members [of the company], they've got some excellent human resources, and are apparently aiming to grow as a web media [company].
Web media I guess is not a business model that makes a lot of money, there isn't enough sales capital to hold on to many reporters, and so as a result they have no other way to collect news stories than to rip off articles from major newspapers. Because of that, though, reporters who actually go out and collect first-hand reports are made to look like complete fools.
The number of subscribers and advertisers at major newspaper companies is also dropping, so already the number of reporters is in decline — if things continue going the way they are, then I have the feeling that primary news will steadily disappear.

All of this leads to a “tragedy”, in the words of the blogger:


There would appear to be many people among those who read news from [portal sites like] Yahoo! News who think the stuff that is written there was written by Yahoo itself. That's why they make casual statements like, “Even if you don't read newspapers, it's okay because there is Yahoo! News”.
But the news on portal sites was all created by reporters at newspaper companies, people like my friend.
If the web and people involved in the web continue to trample all over these guys, then [newspaper companies] will not be able to pay their salaries (although [those salaries] may be high right now), and as a result the primary-source news stories will disappear.
Is that the way everyone want things to turn out?

The blogger ends the post with the question: “Is this the way company reporters and editors want things to turn out?”


The decline of the media industry will be end up being the tragedy of these information junkies, I guess.
I want my friend to grow to become a full-fledged reporter, and go out and make news, but if things stay the way they are right now that would seem to be impossible.

1 comment

  • Increasingly, there are no borders on information. Speaking as a former newspaper reporter and sub-editor in the UK, US, and Japan, I sympathize with the reporter, but frankly, the business models have changed. Already in the UK and US and soon if not already in Japan, the game has moved elsewhere – to the internet. Who collects the news in this brave new world? A good question. I have a hunch it will be almost exclusively citizen journalists (amateurs and former pros). There will still be a need for good editing and even more for opinion, just there is no need for the hierarchical media conglomerates. In the long run, that is not a bad thing for democracy. That’s just my two penneth.

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