Coverage of the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster led people in Japan to stop trusting mainstream media. It also made many journalists realize that Japan’s newspaper industry needed a change.
One of those journalists, Yoshiko Matsushima, is studying international business as part of a yearlong program at the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies. Matsushima, 31, has worked as a reporter for a daily newspaper in the Kanagawa Prefecture, not far from Tokyo. She recently shared her perspective on how journalism in Japan compares to reporting in the U.S.
Newspapers in the Japan and here in the U.S. may have a similar mission, but they very different in approach, she said. Here are some of those differences:
1. Japan doesn’t have a strong tradition of investigative journalism, according to Matsushima.
That became clear after the Fukushima disaster, she said.
“After the earthquake, people wanted to know about nuclear reactors and radiation levels, but the government didn’t want to share that information,” Matsushima said. Some journalists tried investigating, but most Japanese newspapers weren’t able to get the answers the public needed.
Japanese journalists reporting on the government have been criticized for not challenging those in power. Many government meetings aren’t open to the public, and people have been concerned that members of the media don’t ask enough hard questions to hold officials accountable.
2. Newspaper companies’ revenue comes largely from subscriptions, not from advertising as it does in the U.S. Readership is down in cities but still going strong in rural areas.
“The digital (presence of) Asahi and Nikkei is very famous, and especially for Nikkei, (it’s successful).”
A few local newspapers are trying out digital subscriptions as well. The digital editions usually offer more content than the print editions and feature a number of different columnists, which isn’t common in Japan, Matsushima said.
3. Newspapers in Japan have been slow to adopt digital tools and social media.
Using social media for reporting is just beginning to take off, partly because many people in Japan are reluctant to use their real names on social media, Matsushima said. One of the country’s largest newspapers, Asahi, has been experimenting with using Twitter to crowdsource features and run include user-generated content. The practice isn’t yet popular with smaller newspapers.
“We need to try to talk and hear the voice of readers. I think it’s a problem that we haven’t tried to do that,” Matsushima said.