Ichiro Fujisaki, who formerly served as Japan’s ambassador to the United States, praised the paper for its “readability.” He said he senses that the editors try to choose phrases and words that are easy for Japanese readers to understand.
Noting that some of his comments were based on feedback he had received from his foreign friends, he explained that the paper serves as a useful tool to learn about life in Japan. He suggested that expanding coverage of art and social activities may help improve the information content. He said the paper should also run more articles about TV shows and music popular among Japanese audiences.
“Foreigners can show to Japanese that they’re following what’s popular in Japan. For example, if there’s a very popular TV show you could feature it a little more. I think that would be very useful,” he said.
Fujisaki pointed out a number of other areas where he thought there was room for improvement.
He stressed that delays in reporting, apparently resulting from the need to translate reports from Japanese news agencies such as Kyodo or Jiji into English, should be addressed. He added that some articles are published in the print edition or uploaded to The Japan Times website half a day or more behind other print media outlets.
“For example, if you compare it with the Asahi (Shimbun), I think it is a day or half a day behind,” he said. “And I think we should narrow this gap. This is my honest feeling.”
Fujisaki also said some articles seem sensationalist, a problem he had stressed at the last board meeting in April. Fujisaki said at that time it is necessary to provide balanced news coverage, presented in a way that clearly conveys the importance of the issue at hand.
“Some articles do not deserve to be the top articles on the front page,” he said.
Citing examples such as the lead article on Page 1 of the Aug. 16 issue, which was headlined “Cabinet trio pay visit to Yasukuni,” Fujisaki said The Japan Times seems to be trying to create “tension.”
“It’s important. . . . But frankly speaking, I don’t know if these articles merit this kind of space,” he said, referring to the story that described the visit to Yasukuni Shrine by internal affairs minister Yoshitaka Shindo, and Keiji Furuya, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, and administrative reform minister Tomomi Inada. The three are not top-ranking ministers, he said.
Highlighting two stories in particular, “Child abuse cases topped 70,000 in 2013″ which ran on Aug. 5 and “Sex slave web page taken down” which ran on Oct. 16, he also said that playing up these stories may give non-Japanese readers the impression that they were the most important news events that day.
“I am not saying that you shouldn’t send bad information. That’s your responsibility, but this is a little out of balance in some cases,” he said.
Fujisaki also said that headlines are often misleading.
Pointing to an article in the Nov. 4 issue titled “GOP win may put TPP on fast track,” Fujisaki said the headline was exaggerated and therefore misleading. He suggested headlines should be written more carefully, with a more “general perspective.”
Better serving the readers’ needs
Lin Kobayashi, founder of the International School of Asia in Karuizawa, said The Japan Times needs to strategically decide who its core readership/audience should be and use emerging online media strategically in delivering the news.
In doing so, Kobayashi said it is important to make the content relevant to readers, so that a wide range of people — from high school students to workers — can relate to the news.
For example: “The consumption tax, you can tell (what it means), but take the rate changes in the corporate tax. What does that mean to high school students or Japanese residents?” she asked.
Even stories about politics or the economy should lay out what the implications are for readers and how relevant it will be to their lives, she added.
Sharing her own experiences in reading The Japan Times alone and with her students, Kobayashi said she was pleased with the increased coverage of domestic news, especially on the front page. In the media advisory board meeting in April, she suggested that national news be given more emphasis.
“I wanted to see more Japanese news on the front page, and I really noticed that. And I think that’s the trend I wanted to see and I enjoyed it,” she said.
Speaking about her students, who are mainly between 15 and 17 years old, Kobayashi said they tend to enjoy features that shed light on the personal aspects of people in the news.
“They enjoy personal stories like those about a Nobel Prize winner,” she said. “They wanted to hear about her life story.”
However, Kobayashi said the paper still needs to work both on article content and ways to strategically deliver the news by defining a clear target readership so people will choose The Japan Times over other media.
She admitted that her students sometimes struggle to understand some of the articles. If the paper wants to appeal to more young readers, it should define its target and think about the content.
“As Japanese schools are putting more emphasis on English, they are putting (more English media) in their library,” she said. “If that’s the target you want to pursue, I think things like a ‘yogokaisetsu’ (glossary) are very useful for people who are not used to seeing technical terms,” she said.
She also emphasized the importance of utilizing “push media,” citing Japan-based smart phone apps like Gunosy and SmartNews that deliver news from various media sources for free.
Such aggregation apps are increasingly popular among those who want to keep up with the latest developments.
She said after using Gunosy for two or three weeks, she has found that the app learns her interests and sorts and delivers new items that are a good match for her interests.
For people who have only a limited amount of time to skim through the news, reading 10 to 15 interesting articles recommended by these apps is very convenient and efficient, Kobayashi said.
The need for speed, and depth
William H. Saito, CEO of the venture capital firm Intecur, said The Japan Times should make better use of news aggregating websites like Flipboard and social media like Twitter to disseminate its news articles more quickly.
At the latest meeting of The Japan Times media advisory board on Nov. 19, he emphasized the importance of incorporating experts’ opinions into stories to provide more context and perspective, instead of “just the facts.”
Speaking about his own experience as an avid Twitter user, Saito, who is also a member of the Japanese government’s education reform commission, said he once tweeted a recommendation and saw it posted on the Prime Minister’s official website.
“I got 360,000 views of this educational reform thing and it was retweeted 16,000 times. . . . You can have newspaper staff do this,” he said.
Saito, who had more than 876,500 Twitter followers as of Wednesday, said articles in The Japan Times are hard to share with his followers because many of those published on the website are translations of articles provided by Japanese news agencies.
“If you just put the Kyodo as is, there is a high probability that I have read it somewhere else. . . . So what is your added value?” he said.
He urged the paper to differentiate its articles from those distributed by the news agencies so that, as a newspaper company, it can compete better with organizations that are placing an emphasis on speedy distribution.
To add depth to the wire stories, he suggested that The Japan Times introduce different perspectives by adding “on-the-ground quotes.”
“If you add even one or two quotes of what a regular Japanese person, expert or whoever, thinks, it would make that richer,” Saito said.
Meanwhile, he praised the paper’s original reporting as strong and rewarding.
“About the staff stories, I have no arguments. They are great, they have perspective. . . . But it’s one or the other — it’s black or white,” he said.
Saito also said the newspaper is under- utilizing the “communication medium” and needs to make more use of social media.
He recommended that Japan Times articles be crafted to ignite vigorous discussion in the online community so more people will access its website in search of related articles and stay on the site.
Articles that trigger such discussions would also promote cross-posting, which means different people sharing the same article in different places. As a result, the newspaper’s exposure on social media would increase.
To that end, he also said the paper should work to increase the online presence of its staff writers. One suggestion he made was to include each writer’s Twitter ID next to their name or photo, so they not only become more responsible for their articles but also receive feedback directly from readers and establish a closer relationship with them by exchanging opinions.
“I find that more and more news organizations (are doing this). . . . Apparently, it’s taking off,” he said.
Aside from using online technology, Saito said the newspaper should increase coverage of Asian nations with a regional news section.
“I think Japan is responsive toward people in Asia. . . . A lot of English-speaking people come here (from Asian countries),” he said.
A more radical design approach
Kyoto Journal’s founding editor, John Einarsen, believes there could be more stories on Japan, Kansai and East Asia. He also said that The Japan Times should try a more radical approach to design.
Einarsen said in the Media Advisory Board meeting that he asked his students at Kyoto University of Foreign Languages to choose articles that had caught their interest. Many chose items related to Japanese and Korean issues, indicating young people are aware and concerned about them, he said.
He thus suggested that once a week or every two weeks, one of the World pages should be devoted to news on East Asia, concentrating on China, the Koreas and Taiwan, which have not been covered very much.
At the same time, however, Einarsen stressed that such stories not be conflict-oriented but about subjects that can help introduce the region, such as focusing on a country’s communities, lifestyles and culture. He recommended using “peace journalism,” as a way to see conflict as an opportunity to deepen understanding and build positive new relationships.
He also proposed that The Japan Times publish stories translated from Korean or Chinese newspapers.
Einarsen gave high marks to some of The Japan Times’ front-page stories this year, especially those related to social issues, such as the “comfort women,” the females from Asian countries who were forced to provide sex for the Japanese military before and during the war, child abuse, human trafficking, dementia in Japan, and exploitation of teenage girls in the “JK” business.
“One of the important functions of journalism is to give voice to those who cannot speak out,” Einarsen said.
While applauding the design and content of the On Sunday edition, especially the Time Out section, he said its content is too much like the daily.
“I would be more radical and make it into a magazine,” he said, suggesting that it be modeled on The New York Times Magazine. He also suggested that expanded content published on the Community page could serve well as content for On Sunday.
One improvement Einarsen noted was that more interesting features and domestic stories are appearing on the front page and then continuing inside.
He also expressed hope that more coverage of news and issues relating to the Kansai region will be forthcoming.
In his criticism, Einarsen pointed out that topics such as health and well-being rarely appear and must be covered more often.
He also pointed out the low representation of female writers in the Op-Ed and Community pages.
As ways to improve, Einarsen suggested introducing digital content via podcasts, such as an hour-long discussion by the newspaper’s film reviewers that would not be published in the print edition.
As Kyoto Journal’s art director, he also gave feedback on the choice of photos, urging editors to use shots that pull readers in yet settle the entire page.
“I think the best images, they have an element of simplicity or spaciousness to them,” he said.
He said the paper should use more photos taken by independent photographers for stories provided by news agencies.
He also said that using more cartoons and illustrations by Japan-based artists on the editorial page or in other sections would bring those pages to life.
“But I think you have a great paper and you do amazing work,” Einarsen said.
Suggestions by the advisory board members
- Expand coverage of art and social activities
- Better selection of lead articles on the front page
- Avoid misleading headlines
- Deliver stories in a way for readers to relate themselves to the news
- Utilize “push media” to spread news stories
- Make better use of news aggregating websites
- Add depth to stories by adding comments and perspectives
- Run more stories about Japan, East Asia and the Kansai region
- Take a radical approach to design
- Have more stories on health and well-being
Education expert Teru Clavel joining advisers
The Japan Times announced Wednesday that it has appointed Teru Clavel, a consultant, researcher and writer who specializes in education, as a new member of The Japan Times Media Advisory Board.
Clavel will be replacing Lin Kobayashi, co-founder of International School of Asia Karuizawa.
Kobayashi is stepping down because she has relocated to Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, where she will devote her time to the school’s operation.
Established in October last year, The Japan Times Media Advisory Board, appointed four distinguished individuals living in Japan to improve the quality of the newspaper and its reportage.
Clavel will serve the remaining period of Kobayashi’s two-year term. The board, which meets twice a year, monitors the newspaper’s reporting and provides feedback to the newsroom.
A regular contributor to The Japan Times, Clavel has also appeared on CNBC as an education specialist, speaks regularly at Japanese high schools and universities, and has published articles in numerous languages.
She advises families and schools and has conducted numerous studies on international and multicultural education, multiple language acquisition, education theory and school reform.
Having worked in New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and now Tokyo where Clavel is based, she has visited hundreds of schools in those countries.
Clavel holds a Bachelor of Art degree in Asian studies from Dartmouth College and a Master of Science in global and international education from Drexel University with a concentration on Japan and China.
She is certified in Early Childhood Development, Parent Effectiveness Training, and Teaching English as a Foreign Language.