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Advisers assess Japan Times performance after INYT tie-up

The Japan Times entered a new era last October when it commenced a tie-up with the International New York Times.
To assess The Japan Times' performance over the past six months and discuss what kind of news should be covered in the future, the four members of The Japan Times Media Advisory Board met with editorial managers April 7 at our headquarters in Minato Ward, Tokyo.
Board members approached the task from various angles and offered a broad range of observations and recommendations.

STAFF REPORT

Now that The Japan Times is being distributed together with the International New York Times, the advisory board members agreed that there should be a newsroom shift toward even more coverage of Japan.

Lin Kobayashi, founder of International School of Asia, Karuizawa, said increased reporting on Japan was a win-win situation for the paper.

“That’s where you can have an edge as one of the very few English newspapers in Japan. Foreigners want to know what’s happening in Japan,” she said.

William H. Saito, CEO of InTecur, a venture capital firm, pointed out that world news stories in The Japan Times often run the risk of overlapping with stories published in the INYT.

“I’ll be honest. I’ll look at some very international topic — like Malaysian Airlines — in The Japan Times, and I’ll skip it, betting that it’s (also covered in the INYT section),” he said.

Recognizing the inability of the paper to report up-to-the-minute news, Saito emphasized the need for The Japan Times to add context and a fresh Japanese angle to ongoing stories.

“I would want to read the ‘new’ from the Japanese perspective, with Japanese context and a different angle (to) the INYT side,” he said. “If you want to look at the whole original thesis of what news is — meaning to represent the ‘new’ — more care should be in analysis and (providing) varying perspectives.”

Kyoto Journal founder John Einarsen echoed this in his observations about “explanatory journalism.”

“You have a news story, but then you have something else that explains, ‘what it means.’ (The Japan Times) does that quite well, because I noticed that you have ‘FYI,’ you have ‘Analysis,’ ‘Focus,’ ‘National Spotlight.’ And then you have all those columns by (people such as) Jeff Kingston,” he said.

Einarsen also said that national news features that run on Page 3 should be more prominently featured on the front page.

“I felt (those features) are so good that some of them should maybe start on the front page and move to Page 3. And again, that’s not immediate news, but it’s something a little bit deeper about the culture and, I think, very valuable,” he said.

Former Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki cited the importance of providing accurate information on Japan to overseas readers.

“It’s important to broaden business opportunities for foreigners living in Japan by letting them know the needs of the Japanese,” he added.

He also proposed The Japan Times report more on trends and what is popular in Japan.

Applauding the paper’s “Generational Change” series, which introduces young Japanese leaders who have the potential to change the nation, Fujisaki suggested The Japan Times should introduce more up-and-coming “new types” of Japanese people.

Einarsen made a similar proposal that there should be a column themed along the lines of “The Genius of Japan.”

“I would try to investigate or find things that are happening in Japan — whether technological or cultural — that could be applied to the problems that are being experienced around the world,” he said.

Knowing your audience

The advisory board members agreed that “knowing the newspaper’s audience” is essential to The Japan Times’ growth.

Kobayashi said the newspaper should have a clear strategy about its target readership.

“If I can be very frank, I thought, ‘Who is your audience?’ ” she said.

“The Bilingual page looks like it’s targeting foreigners in Japan. And then, on sports page, there are a lot of American sports.

“I think doing research and really getting to know who your current readers are and how you want to reach them (is important),” she said.

She pointed out that Japanese demographics are transforming very rapidly, with the government’s policies regarding immigrants and foreign workers changing.

“We’ll have a lot more foreigners coming into Japan. And I’m not sure what Chinese and Koreans are reading at the moment on Japan, but really thinking about who your future audience will be in five years from now would be great research,” she said.

Fujisaki observed that while the Bilingual page is attractive to people who want to learn the Japanese language, he also believes it holds interest for Japanese readers.

He added that The Japan Times should also consider interviewing foreign businesspeople for a series about their stories and successes working in the country.

Einarsen pointed out the lack of female contributors to the newspaper’s opinion pages.

“I think the op-ed pages are quite fantastic — the way you bring in Korean op-eds and different people from different places,” he said. “However, it’s very male-dominated. It’s almost all male. . . . I think that could be improved.”

Asked whether she has any suggestions about what kind of stories women want to read, Kobayashi said that because she comes from the education field and because she is a mother, articles such as a recent one that recommended where parents can shop with small children catch her attention.

She added, however, that it’s not clear when and where those stories currently appear in the newspaper.

Einarsen mentioned health-related stories, noting that they should not be buried on science pages, and that such stories should be more about both physical and spiritual wellness.

Views on balanced coverage

The advisers also stressed the necessity to provide balanced news coverage and present it in a way that clearly conveys the importance of the issue.

Fujisaki said he felt the headlines and handling of certain news items, such as issues related to the Fukushima nuclear power plant, have been occasionally sensational, and such a treatment of these topics may convey an overly alarming and dangerous image of Japan to the rest of the world.

He said that to convey the nuance of some topics, it is necessary to present them from multiple angles.

“I have no objection to covering these important events (but) what I expect is in-depth analysis,” Fujisaki said.

“I also think the remarks by the chairman of NHK were problematic, but I wonder (whether) this issue should be the top story of the paper every day,” Fujisaki said, referring to stories that were published in late January about remarks on sex slaves made by new NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii.

On the other hand, Fujisaki said not enough play was given to a Feb. 25 story headlined “Abe looks to ease arms export ban for states in strife.”

“I think it is quite a big thing for Japan, and the story should have run more prominently,” he said.

Kobayashi also stressed the importance of diverse views.

“You have to provide two or three different perspectives when you cover one story, not only (related to the) Fukushima (issue), but Yasukuni (Shrine) and ‘ianfu mondai,’ (‘comfort women’ in English),” she said.

The advisers also expressed hope that important stories be covered by staff writers. Citing examples such as the March 15 story “Abe: Kono sex slave apology stands — upholding 1993 statement seen as bid to ease tensions with South Korea” and Yasukuni-related stories, Fujisaki said that such important stories too often come from wire services.

Fujisaki said that stories that non-Japanese people would have a strong interest in, such as immigration issues, require further follow-up by The Japan Times reporters.

Presentation and design

As a photographer and editor, Einarsen made suggestions regarding the paper’s design and graphics.

He suggested that The Japan Times On Sunday’s new tabloid format makes it a perfect vehicle to reintroduce the classic two- or three-page photo essay that used to appear in newspapers.

“I think this (tabloid size) format just lends itself to that kind of thing — something that people might buy a print issue for, rather than a little picture in the screen,” Einarsen said.

As an example, he cited two recent photo essays about a scientific expedition ship stranded in Antarctica and other coverage of the third anniversary of the March 11, 2011, Tohoku earthquake.

In the March 14 issue of The Japan Times, he continued, there was a story about a young Japanese photographer, Noriko Hayashi, who documented the lives of socially marginalized people around the world.

He pointed out that presentation would have profited from more photos.

Einarsen also suggested the utilization of more infographics.

“You have very good infographics when it comes to earthquakes or (similar topics),” he said.

Infographics could also be used in coverage of various important issues in our daily lives, such as climate change or the water crisis, he suggested.

He also said using more graphic illustrations on the opinion pages in the Sunday edition, as well as the front page, would be a welcome addition.

“Photographs and illustrations are also very important to this medium — not only writing,” he said.

Einarsen recommended several ways in which the overall design of the newspaper could be improved.

He said the paper needs better visual cohesiveness, as columnist photos and some graphic logos for different series lack consistency.

“Little details would make the paper a little smarter,” he said.

Moving into the digital era

The advisory board members also touched on the importance of digital media.

Saito, a leading authority on encryption and authentication technology, pointed out that targeting readers on digital platforms would enable the company to obtain better demographic data on its readers.

Digital media also enables the newspaper to assess the performance of its content and receive immediate feedback from readers, he added.

“You get very minuscule, very precise measurements of what worked and what didn’t,” he said. “So you have an ongoing, 24-hour survey that constantly measures (whether) articles are popular or not.”

Saito suggested The Japan Times increase its usage of QR codes or similar tools that can direct print readers to related online content, such as a related FYI column.

Saito also recommended creating more audio content as a learning tool for Japanese who use the newspaper to improve their English-language skills.

He said that many online readers might be interested in downloadable podcasts that they can listen to while commuting.

Saito said that a smart digital strategy should target overseas readers, as there are many “opportunities and venues that are now becoming more successful online.”

“People are very, very interested in Japan and they don’t live here. They don’t get the print version,” he said. “Even if you get full subscription in Japan, that’s only 1.7 percent of the world’s population. Nothing. The future is really digital media.”

 

John Einarsen

Einarsen is the founding editor and art director of Kyoto Journal, a nonprofit, all-volunteer magazine that has been in publication for the past 27 years.

Einarsen first came to Japan on a U.S. Navy minesweeper at the end of the Vietnam War. After studying art and photography in Colorado, he returned to Japan and eventually settled in Kyoto.

He has designed several books, including “Japanese Garden Design,” a Japanese edition of “The Art of Setting Stones,” an English translation of the gardening classic “The Sakuteiki,” and “Doctor Stories from the Island Journals of the Legendary Dr. Koto.”

In 2008, with Masumi Ishihara, Einarsen curated PeaceWorks, an exhibition that explored “peace photography,” featuring 38 photographers from 11 countries. A book of his photographs with poems by Edith Shiffert, “Kyoto: The Forest Within the Gate,” was published in December 2013. He received the Cultural Affairs Agency Commissioner’s Award in June 2013.


Ichiro Fujisaki

Fujisaki, Japan’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2008 to 2012, is now a professor at Sophia University and a visiting professor at Keio University.

He entered the Foreign Ministry in 1969 and was posted to Jakarta, Paris and London.

In 1994, Fujisaki became deputy director general for Asian affairs. In 1995, he was named political minister at the embassy in Washington and in 1999 he became director general for North American affairs.

Fujisaki became deputy foreign minister, one of Japan’s top posts for a career diplomat, in 2002. He also served as ambassador to the United Nations and World Trade Organization in Geneva between 2005 and 2008.

During his ambassadorship to the U.S., he had to deal with major events such as the Great East Japan Earthquake and President Barack Obama’s re-election.

In July, he became president of The America-Japan Society, Inc., one of the first groups to develop friendly relations between the two nations during World War I, when ties were tense.


Lin Kobayashi

Kobayashi is a co-founder and chairwoman of the board at International School of Asia, Karuizawa (ISAK), a residential high school that will open in Nagano Prefecture in August. ISAK aims to bring together top students from around the world and develop leaders eager to work for positive change in their countries and communities.

Kobayashi’s passion for education began during her studies at a residential high school in Canada. She began her career at Morgan Stanley and went on to work for JBIC.

Before returning to Tokyo in 2008 to launch the ISAK project, she spent two years with UNICEF in the Philippines, working on nonformal education projects for street children.

She holds an M.A. in international education policy analysis from Stanford University and a B.A. in development economics from the University of Tokyo.

Kobayashi was named a “Young Global Leader 2012’’ by the World Economic Forum and was selected as a “Changemaker of the Year 2013’’ by Nikkei Business.


William H. Saito

Saito is the founder of InTecur, a venture capital consultancy.

Named by Nikkei as one of the “100 Most Influential People for Japan,” Saito is an authority on encryption, biometric authentication and cybersecurity. In 2004 he sold his first company to Microsoft, moved to Tokyo, and founded InTecur.

After the disasters of March 11, 2011, Saito was named chief technology officer of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. In 2012, he was appointed to a council on national strategy that reported directly to the prime minister.

He is active in the World Economic Forum as a Foundation Board Member, a Young Global Leader and a Global Agenda Council member. Saito advises several national governments. In Japan, he has worked with several ministries and agencies.

A popular lecturer at various universities, he frequently appears on TV, sits on the boards of several companies and is the author of numerous publications.