In a world where users have access to torrents of online information, BuzzFeed Japan sees vetting and correcting stories published by other media as one of its major reasons for being.
Major media outlets are “very powerful, and it’s meaningful to run that amount of straight news everyday, but it’s impossible for us to accomplish that,” said Daisuke Furuta, BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief and a former Asahi Shimbun reporter who served as that daily’s digital editor before joining BuzzFeed’s Japan branch.
BuzzFeed, a social news and entertainment company, was founded in the United States in 2006. A decade later in January, it launched its service in Japan.
BuzzFeed Japan currently has about 30 reporters, a shadow of the thousands of people employed by big newspapers nationwide.
Given the resources available to him, “I thought it’d be important to investigate misinformation and online rumors,” he said.
For instance, after Nintendo released a video its new Nintendo Switch game console in late October, some websites, including Hachima Kikou, a popular user-generated content site, falsely reported that the game company used footage from the game “Skyrim” without the permission of its publisher. Buzzfeed was quick to catch the error, reporting later in the day that Hachima Kikou had misinterpreted an English article.
On another occasion, when Fuji TV reported that one of the pillars at the controversial Toyosu fish and food market site was tilting, using only one image as its source, BuzzFeed proved it wrong. The broadcaster later issued an apology during its program.
The firm also takes pride in going after online rumors that have gone viral.
When a tweet about a fishing gear shop in Hokkaido that sells bludgeons to hit salmon went viral, BuzzFeed was quick to set the record straight: The tool, called a salmon bat, is widely used in the prefecture to paralyze the fish one caught.
BuzzFeed covers politics as well as various social issues, including a recent focus on the working environments of Japanese companies following the suicide of a young female worker at major ad agency Dentsu in December 2015, which made headlines nationwide after her death was recognized as karoshi, or death from overwork.
Offering content that tempts users to share on social media is also a key strategy for BuzzFeed Japan, Furuta said.
“Content from BuzzFeed’s U.S. edition targets the lifestyle of teenagers and people in their 20s, and it’s likely to trigger conversation-sparking comments like, ‘Did you see that?’ and ‘Wasn’t that funny?’ ” Furuta said.
“Since new examples of culture could evolve from such content, we aim to increase content that is relatable and likely to become a hot topic,” he said, citing the U.S. story “What Color Is This Dress?” that went viral last year as an example.
During a news conference in Tokyo last month at BuzzFeed Japan’s office, CEO and co-founder Jonah Peretti said its Japanese edition is accessed monthly by 10 million unique visitors. The website logs 200 million accesses per month around the globe.
The total number of clicks and views for its website and social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter, is roughly 7 billion a month worldwide, Peretti said separately in May.
Japanese content is starting to contribute to the figures, such as an interview with comedian Piko-Taro published before his major breakthrough, and the Japanese reaction to U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, which was translated into various languages.
“Japan is under the (international) spotlight for being a country filled with interesting culture. Various media outlets are struggling to make Japanese voices heard overseas, but many things are left unknown. That’s why we’d like to continue” finding and covering such culture, Furuta said.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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