The news business in Japan has long been notoriously labor-intensive. Reporters assigned to the crime and disaster beats have largely relied on briefings from police officers or firefighters for their initial reports.

But to get a scoop or avoid falling behind their competitors, they have also toiled away at youchi asagake (visiting officials at their homes late at night or in the early morning for brief solitary chats with them).

In an era where word of a fire or accident quickly spreads through social media, however, the value of such practices, at least for routine news stories, has been thrown into question. In recent years, major media outlets have instead turned to a "news agency" that doesn't even have one journalist. Instead it is staffed by engineers who develop technologies to let machines be their news hounds.