Huffington Post looks to weave new Web in Japan

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The Japanese version of the Huffington Post will offer a website that spurs more interaction between the media and the public and empower Generation Y, the children of the baby boomers, said Shigeki Matsuura, editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Japan, which is scheduled to launch next Tuesday.

Japan will be the sixth location for the U.S.-based Huffington Post to kick off an international edition after Canada, France, Italy, Spain and the U.K. The Japanese version will be operated in partnership with the Asahi Shimbun.

Matsuura said it aims to be one of the top five news websites in Japan in three years.

“Unlike the previous online media, we will join the discussion with the readers to enhance the debate and create more content based on their comments,” Matsuura said in an interview with The Japan Times on April 15.

Japan’s mainstream media companies, suffering from dwindling circulation numbers and viewer rates, are struggling to capitalize on the power of the Internet. It’s only in the past two or three years that newspapers have delved into digital editions or smartphone apps, and precious few allow readers to post comments on their articles.

Matsuura said the mainstream media are failing to embrace interactivity. According to him, their perception of “interactive” is one-sided and refers to news consumers who discuss the content on their blogs or social-networking sites, such as Twitter or Facebook. But the media rarely join such discussions or build on reader opinions to take their articles to the next level.

“What we value is the comment itself, and how it evolves to a new trend in opinion,” said Matsuura, emphasizing Huffington Post’s character as a platform for engagement that features user-posted stories ranked by popularity.

The public can comment on the posts as well, which can also be ranked and contribute to the development of new opinions.

The formula has proven popular in the United States, where Huffington Post attracts 46 million visitors and about 8 million comments a month.

The news aggregator and blog site was founded by Greek-American author and syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington in 2005.

Huffington Post, which stands as an alternative to the conservative Drudge Report, a popular and influential news aggregator, has gained much support from liberals in the United States.

Unlike many content aggregators, however, the Huffington Post offers original reporting. Its 10-part series Beyond the Battlefield, which detailed the lives of wounded soldiers who returned from Iraq, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012, a first for any commercially run digital media enterprise in the United States.

While the U.S. site features blogs written by such celebrities as Jamie Lee Curtis or former President Bill Clinton, the Japanese version will offer items written by prominent experts on a wider range of issues ranging from politics and economics to lifestyle issues and entertainment. It also plans to hire freelance journalists to engage in original reporting, like the U.S. version.

Matsuura said the website will be a perfect match for the Japanese, who are avid users of the Internet, especially social-networking sites.

One of the biggest challenges for the Japanese version will be keeping negative comments to a minimum and encouraging constructive discussion.

Japanese topic boards, such as the infamous 2channnel, often overflow with slanderous or ultranationalistic comments. Matsuura said the Japanese version will edit them, like the U.S. Huffington Post, by deleting all negative posts that lack supportive information.

Like the U.S. version, the content will be free of charge and revenue will come from advertising. That is one of the reasons why Matsuura, 39, who has almost no background in journalism but has the skills to turn a profit in online media, was picked for the editor-in-chief position to lead the 10-member staff.

“There are many strategies for Net media to generate a profit. I will not interfere with the editing, but my job is to design the model for making the site financially successful,” said Matsuura. “But journalists will be required to understand numbers if they want to be successful.”

Having worked on the business side for various online media, such as the aggregator Livedoor News or blog site Blogos, which emulated the Huffington Post, which emulated the Huffington Post, Matsuura said the Internet in Japan said the Internet in Japan is still powerless compared with the mainstream media in terms of mobilizing political action.

Matsuura asserted that one reason the online media is less powerful than newspapers or TV in pressuring politicians or the government is that it has failed to attract the silent majority. It is mainly people with hardened political views, often radical, who drive opinions on the Web.

To attract more diversity, the Japanese site will be targeted at people in their 30s, the children of the baby boomers, who will be leading Japan in the near future.

“People in their 30s comprise the widest base in Japan’s population pyramid, while we have less and less younger people,” said Matsuura.

“Unless the Generation Y can be more assertive to drive opinions, Japan will be in trouble.”

  • nobuo takamura

    I’ve just read the news about Huffington Post of late; therefore I’m led to good understanding of this article, though I’m over 65. I’ll be just following HP with a promising spirit of cultivating opinions of my own. Thanks!