Japan from the inside out

The collapse of journalism in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 8, 2008

BIG JOURNALISM the world over is turning itself into dinosaur journalism before our eyes, and that process is also underway in Japan. One difference here, however, is that the problems are as much structural as they are attitudinal.

Freelance reporter Uesugi Takashi has published a paperback in Japanese that describes some of those problems. Called The Collapse of Journalism, it is reviewed in the November issue of Shokun! by Kawamura Jiro, himself a former reporter for the Asahi Shimbun. The following is a quick translation of that review.


“After working as a government-paid political aide in the upper house of the Diet and as a salaried reporter in the Tokyo bureau of the New York Times, author Uesugi Takashi became a freelance political reporter. This book presents his descriptions of the behavior of political journalists working in the Japanese print and broadcast media, based on what he’s seen through his own work. It might be more apt to say, however, that it exposes their behavior.

“For example, the political reporters, known as ‘duty reporters’ are assigned (by their employers) to cover specified politicians only. When that politician gives a speech, the duty reporters get together and compare their notes. It’s no wonder all the newspaper articles read the same.

“Those reporters assigned to the ruling party are not able to interview opposition party members as they would like. The mass media often criticize the government and public offices for their vertical compartmentalization, but the media are guilty of the same practice themselves.

“The duty reporters sometimes act as watchdogs for the politicians. Whenever a reporter from a different desk at the same newspaper or a freelance reporter tries to talk to a politician, the duty reporters will try to prevent them from meeting. As a result:

‘Political reporters monopolize the right of access to politicians, are fully conversant with affairs at Nagata-cho, and take the government to task, yet still have never done any hard-hitting coverage of politicians. In every instance, scoops that terrify the prime minister’s office, articles that cause parliamentarians to resign, and stories about scandals that throw a politician’s reelection into doubt have been written by journalists not working the political affairs desk.’

“Come to think of it, the Asahi Shimbun broke the Recruit scandal, but the reporters who got the scoop were young journalists working at the Yokohama and Kawasaki branches, not the political reporters. At the time, the author was assigned to the weekly magazine Shukan Asahi, and it was common practice for the duty reporters to act as watchdogs for the politicians instead.

“I was struck speechless by the sentence, ‘Reporters who are superior journalists cannot survive at the political affairs desk.’

“When there are fewer journalists of excellence and more reporters with little ability, we shouldn’t be surprised at the appearance of op-ed writers who write pieces calling the Justice Minister ‘The Grim Reaper’. (The God of Death in the original Japanese)

“Many newspaper executives lament that people nowadays are reading less, and reading fewer newspapers, but the content of this book makes one wonder if this tendency to turn away from the print media shouldn’t be expected.

“Newspapers conduct polls to determine the public’s support for the Cabinet, but they just might be in urgent need of polls to find out how many people actually read what they’re writing, and whether the readers trust it. The first poll they should take is to find out whether their own employees are actually reading it. Make the poll anonymous for the sake of the cowards.”


During a newspaper interview conducted the day after Abe Shinzo assumed office, the book’s author predicted that the new prime minister would be gone in a year. The Abe administration lasted 366 days.

Here’s the Amazon link to the book.

4 Responses to “The collapse of journalism in Japan”

  1. Chris said

    Thanks for translating this review, I’d actually noticed that it was mentioned in Uesugi’s blog but hadn’t read it yet.

    Scilla Alecci did a review of some Japanese bloggers views on the book, might be of interest to readers of this.

  2. bender said

    People reading less? Give me a break!

    Compare the length of articles between a Japanese newspaper (or magazine) and an American one. It’s obvious Japanese journalists don’t write that much…probably a sign of how they don’t do in-depth coverage or do their homework before they write.

  3. […] Is there a collapse of journalism in Japan? […]

  4. […] Uesugi,   Japonijos žurnalistas, knygos “Žurnalistikos žlugimas” (angl. The Collapse of Journalism) autorius,    Japonijos Laisvos spaudos asociacijos (angl. Free Press Association of Japan, FPAJ) […]

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