- Large news sites including legacy media websites are now mainly relying on incomes from advertisers, but by observing and following trends overseas, they are trialling several other business models to acquire sustainability. Currently many sites have moved towards a freemium model, but this is not without problems.
- Many small and medium-sized news sites including alternative journalism sites are partly dependent on its news distribution to portal sites or legacy media. Because of Japan’s barely there donation culture, citizen and alterna- tive journalism sites are struggling to survive, although they are attempting to disperse risk by using several profit models at the same time.
- By inventing new web architecture some subculture sites have been great successes. In these cases, more journalistic agendas were put in place after their success.
- Apart from economical sustainability, Japanese online journalism culture is facing several challenges for its sustainability. For example, training, supplying and the livelihood of young journalists in online culture is a key problem.
- Another relatively new topic in Japanese history is fixing the online public opinion sphere to bridge the gap between nationalism and globalism.
- The case studies include: A Power Magazine, Nanapi, Rocket News, Webronza, Record China, Niwango, Our Planet TV, 47news, CB News, Gigazine, JB Press, Blogos, Sankei Digital, Natalie, Videonews.com.
The Japanese media environment is in a way richer than other countries, but at the same time it is structured inside a peculiar ecosystem. Part of it continues to gaze at world trends, and survives by trial and error within its niche, but sometimes a trial produces some unique characteristics because of this isolated media ecosystem. In Japan, the word “journalism” is usually limited to journalistic activity strongly related to public welfare and quite often journalists will simply call themselves writers. Interestingly this research has shown that sometimes those involved in Internet-based new media proclaim their activity as the “real” journalism. This chapter sets out an overview of the Japanese media, then a description of how the traditional media are trying to fit into the new age, and finally how the upcoming Internet media is starting up and changing journalism.
The media landscape in Japan
Traditional media such as newspapers, television and radio in Japan have been gradually declining, just as they are in other countries. In 1997, newspaper circulation numbers had reached 53.8 million in total, but by 2011 this number had declined to 46.8 million. However, unlike the US model which is dependent on advertising, most Japanese newspapers make most of their revenue through home delivery contracts so the income drop has been less severe.
Each newspaper company has its own website and provides news for portal websites. In addition to this, many are trying to embrace the social media but their conservative tendencies are still present. For example, only Asahi Shimbun official permits their journalists to use Twitter. Television has also been gradually losing their audience ratings. On the other hand, CS (communicating satellite) and BS (broadband satellite) broadcasting services are steadily gaining new audiences. Those belonging to higher income groups have tended to move towards CS/BS broadcast while lower income groups have remained in terrestrial broadcasting services. Television companies have been trying to merge their services with the Internet, but there have been no remarkable successes yet. In 2012, terrestrial broadcasting services in Japan switched to digital.
Radio listener ratings have also been declining. In 2001, 43% of Japan’s population had been listening to the radio, but this figure gradually declined to 37.5% by 2011 (Hirata et al. 2012). However the media characteristics of radio matches those of the Internet. Radico.jp and its iPhone or Android mobile applications provide a new platform for radio channels, and many are trying to make mash ups of programs. Today, the majority of programs are announced using Twitter and hashtags.
According to a 2011 survey, in “the value of media” category, people rated the Internet as more important than newspapers, which dropped to second place next to television. Yahoo! Japan has more than 50% of portal website shares, and search engines are almost all monopolized by Google2. A census looking into what generations used the Internet found younger generation mobile Internet users were the main traction power of the Internet3. A significant number of blog users were women, regardless of their age. But in Japan, blogs are mainly used as diaries, and are rarely used for public debate. Bulletin board systems (BBS) were mainly used by middle-aged people, and many senior citizens used their local social networking services (SNS).
Beginning with a largely younger generation and moving out towards other generations, the social media has seen a gradual decline in the number of users of Japan-made social network services such as mixi, while others have teamed up with social gaming services, or have kept their name in the business by maintaining a local context for alumni or extended family networks. Facebook and Twitter have been regularly used by all generations. Another observation is the growing use of social networks such as GREE or Mobage, which offer mainly games, by teenagers and lower income earners (Nielsen Wire 2011).
It is important to note the rise of social networking sites in order to more fully understand the potential for journalistic startups. Towards the end of 2011, Twitter user numbers had topped 14 million in Japan, and continues to rise. It must be noted that when using Twitter, a larger amount of information can be condensed into 140 letters using Japanese rather than English. Exact rate is still in debate among researchers, but it is roughly estimated to be about 1.5 to twice as much as writing the same message in English. In light of this, Japanese could use Twitter as a debating tool, but the limited word usage could invite misinterpretation, making the tool incomplete. Despite this, it has been recognized as a tool that functions well enough for someone to express an opinion. With this in mind, Twitter stands before legacy media as a tool to collect people’s opinions. Today, a Japanese-made service called Togetter (togetter.com) is also widely used, and it allows people to collect and edit fragments of information given by Twitter.
The traditional media in Japan have kept bylines to a minimum compared to other countries, and journalists will often publish work under an alias. This trend continues in the social media, and therefore it can be said that legacy media on a whole is conservative. Out of all of the major daily newspapers, currently Asahi Shimbun is the only newspaper, which allows their journalists to use Twitter. Public broadcaster NHK had very actively used Twitter following the 2011 Japan Earthquake, but at the time of writing this article, there has been a backlash by senior management, and it is likely that journalists will be forced to close their own accounts while on the job.
On the other hand, freelance journalists working in alternative media have been using ICT, social media as much as possible. Japan’s unique press clubs have been criticized for its exclusivity and contributing to government propaganda, but now freelance journalists have set up their own associations and support a more open journalism system. The issue is still in transition, but there is no doubt that by exposing themselves, these journalists have shaken up the existing journalism structure.
The digital divide is becoming a serious issue. In terms of the digital divide between generations, senior citizens and lower income earners have been the slowest to enter the digital wave. This is particularly noticeable in the mobile environment, where 98.6% of users frequently use 3G network lines but the differences in efficiency of the product used to send and collect information is significant. For example, according to a 2010 study, the mobile phone, smart phone and tablet user’s income average was about 5.4, 6.8 and 7.4 million yen in each (Digital Wireless Consortium 2010). In a report released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications on May 30, 2012, it had said regular smart phone users had jumped from 9.3% in late 2011, to 29.3%, but regular personal computer users had dropped from 83.4% a year before that to 77.4% today. Furthermore, low income household (less than 2 million yen per year, around 19 444 €) has only about 60 % usage of Internet, but more than 80 % of high income household (over 6 million yen per year) uses Internet. The figures also show a change in where people are getting their information from.
Regional digital divides are also becoming a big problem. The above example is true in large cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, but out in regional areas, only 27.4% of organization on average use ICT services such as medicine, public welfare, education, tourism, and disaster relief.
The media effect following the Japan earthquake
The 2011 Japan earthquake happened while this investigation was underway. This disaster affected not only the Japanese people, but also the media who are now learning from their mistakes. This has lead parts of this investigation to be strongly emphasized because it was carried out during a transition period.
After the earthquake, both the Japanese government and the traditional media found themselves in an uncertain situation, and while the media attempted to obtain accurate information, in general it ended in failure and the news became conservative, protective model which lacked vital information. The government had tried to set up a website especially for disaster-related information, also sending it out using SNS and this was well-received by some. However, sending out only certain information, some of it irrelevant, and nothing concerning uncertain information could be called a bad example in crisis communication, which risks creating a malfunction in public debate over the issue.
The media environment itself was shaken by the disaster as people started to gather information about things such as incoming aftershocks, what was happening at the nuclear reactors, and what radioactive material was blowing out of the reactors from several channels. A study by Nomura Research Institute (2011) found that the public’s trust in the Internet and social media had increased significantly.
Some brave (and occasionally rash) individuals, mainly freelance journalists in alternative media, published their predictions to what was going to happen next. These reporters streamed government and TEPCO press conferences live on the Internet, and also published comments from scientists who showed scepticism towards government reports.
The disaster did help to improve the public’s media literacy and break down the rivalry between traditional media and Internet media. After the earthquake, public broadcaster NHK had merged traditional media with the Internet, which was observed in several different ways and could be the start of something which will be mutually beneficial for both parties. However, looking at sustainability from the point of view of management, this case is an example where their company’s process had failed.
Newspapers – the giants in traditional media
Following the arrival of the Internet, newspaper companies have launched their own websites, and are currently still sharing their news on portal websites for free. However, since print newspaper number sales have been declining, and it had become apparent that website advertising revenue will not be enough, newspapers are pushing for an online subscription system. Major daily newspapers who do sell digital newspapers today are Asahi Shimbun (asahi.com) and Nikkei Shimbun (nikkei.com), who charge about 4000 yen (approximately €41 or $51 according to September 2012 currency rates) every month, which is about the same as their normal print edition subscription. Other newspaper companies are trying to add some creativity to their product. The biggest daily newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun (yomiuri.co.jp) has started to sell their newspaper as a downloadable application, and Mainichi Shimbun (mainichi.jp) have started new interactive news service titled Mainichi RT (mainichi-rt.com) for picking up audiences’ reaction (retweet, RT) to news on Twitter. Nevertheless, one thing all of these major newspapers have in common is they want to sell digital content as much as they want to sell print newspapers.
In a way, the Internet’s wide use can be linked to the drop in advertising revenue in door-to-door newspaper sales, but it is also a wakeup call that newspaper sale methods need to be reviewed. For many years, sales have been controlled by monopolized distributing networks which have forced people to buy newspapers. As of 2011, the number of newspaper delivery shops continues to drop, but there are still 18,836 distributing outlets which employ 377,495 workers (The Japan Newspaper Publishers Association, 2012). Combining this impressive number with mid-stream distributing networks would show how big the business still remains to be, and how it is capable of adapting its business model to society today.
Sankei Shimbun (sankei.jp) is Japan’s fifth most-selling conservative newspaper, putting 1.6 million copies into circulation every day. Although it sells much less compared to the top four newspapers in the country, its relatively small size has given it the freedom to experiment with new ways to get into the digital world, giving it a head start against its rivals. Many of the company’s attempts have been well-received in the industry, including iPhone/iPad applications which allow users to read a print version of the newspaper online for free, and working along with weblog and SNS. It has also used its popular entertainment pages to an advantage, inviting casual users to join in debates. CEO Tetsuji Kondo said it is important to have flexibility in a business model; “It is important to be able to change your business model quickly so it can keep up with a society which changes unexpectedly.”
While some companies are taking on the challenge of change, most newspapers are in no hurry. Being slow is probably a characteristic only seen in Japan. The reason for this is because any threat that takes over the USA takes 10 years to affect people in Japan, and so many companies simply observe their foreign counterparts carrying out experiments, and through this can guess what the possible problems and solutions affecting them could be.
In these ways, Japan’s newspaper companies are continuing to try and shift from the paper medium to the digital medium. Not only that, but it is also important to note that there is a significant difference between the news content itself on paper and online. Newspaper font sizes have been getting bigger every few years to accommodate for Japan’s aging population who say they have trouble reading smaller letters. Unfortunately, this also means a drop in each article’s word limit. Because there are usually no word limits on digital content, many young people have called print newspapers “empty news sources”. Some companies are currently trying to find a way to customize content according to its media.
Wire agencies and regional newspapers
While the Internet is giving newspapers a tough time, wire news agencies are doing better because there is a large demand for short news stories which can be read on mobile phones. A wire news agency can, for instance, make enough revenue by selling its news content to portal websites.
Wire news agencies in Japan had split into two companies, Jiji Press (jiji.com) and Kyodo News (kyodo.co.jp), following a rebuff by the American General Head Quarters after the end of WWII. Of these two, Jiji Press has developed a news flash website commonly known as jiji.com. Under the slogan, “Bringing the world’s voice to Japan, and Japan’s voice to the world”, Jiji Press works together with other agencies such as AFP and Reuters, and considers global news as one of its strong points.
Although some of its function in society overlaps Jiji Press, Kyodo News has taken a curious step in the news world. Where most regional newspapers are made up of content from wire agencies and local news written by local reporters, Kyodo News goes both ways and collects and distributes local news from across the country. Their 47news (47news.jp) website (47 representing the number of prefectures in Japan) has been attracting a large number of visitors. While these wire agency websites have been financially successful thanks to additional companies such as AdSense, Sponsored link, and Ad Networks, they say they feel it is a risk to be dependent on them and so the next issue will be to figure out how to manage without their support.
Kanagawa Shimbun’s Kanaloco (kanaloco.jp) website is an example of a successful regional newspaper company which offers some interesting features. Kanagawa prefecture is located next to Tokyo, and is the second most-populated region in Japan after the capital. However, this also means the two regions are too similar, but the company cannot survive just by distributing news about Tokyo. In light of this and from the Japan Earthquake, it had become apparent there was potential to develop a website accessible by mobile phone which specialized in local lifestyle information. So Kanaloco developed Kanamoba, a pay-as-you-go mobile website offering local information which has become one of the company’s biggest selling point, and helps put journalism to good use for the community. Kanaloco is also a supporter of citizen journalism, and since 2005 has allocated the locals a section to write stories, making Kanaloco the first Japanese newspaper to allow stories to be written by both sides. However, a number of issues still remain to be solved such as adapting this business model for regions with small populations, and how much control the paper still has management-wise.
Internet as an alternative media
Alternative journalism has been encouraged after the appearance of the Internet. “Mass-gomi” is net slang in Japan originating from the word Mass Comi, which in turn is short for “mass communication media”, and gomi meaning trash. Namely, the word mass gomi is a dull joke including the critical meaning “Mass Communication (journalism) does not tell the truth, but the Internet does” and was popularized through the Internet. As is testified in this word, the “legacy media vs. Internet” debate has been repeated several times in the Japanese Internet sphere, and the essence of the argument has come from a reflection of alternativeness in Internet speech in response to legacy media.
Both Videonews (videonews.com) and OurPlanet-TV (ourplanet-tv.org) offer original online video programs, and can be distinguished as alternative journalism sites. Videonews is financially in the black thanks mainly to a 500 yen/month (€5,07; $6,38) subscribing membership system. OurPlanet-TV is also just in the black financially thanks to producing programs for legacy media and through donations. Also, the Japan branch of the world famous alternative journalism website, Democracynow! Japan (democracynow.jp) has been successful, but its staff are worried about the fact that their incomes mainly depend on program sales to the CS broadcasting services. Currently they are preparing to cooperate with niconico (see below) and provide programs on its channel.
There are several alternative journalism sites, and a number of them are already in the black and have proven to be sustainable. Their topics are rather local, but sometimes involve their own investigative journalism. Other characteristics of alternative journalism companies that differ from other online journalism models are that they are eager to train young journalists. They hire young staff, not journalists working in legacy media, and sometimes hold workshops to train citizens as journalists.
One remarkable thing is that during the interviews, administers to these alternative sites often said that “we are embodying journalism online”. This declaration contrasted to what legacy media-based administers had said; they hesitated to call their activity “journalism” because they were not independent from their parent companies and not doing any investigative reporting of their own.
Entrepreneurships through architecture
Another approach for sustainable journalism on the Internet is based on the innovation in information architecture or new digital curation methods. Many sites are conducting trials to monetize from these innovations. Webronza (webronza.asahi.com) is a new online version of Ronza, a former liberal opinion platform magazine that had been published till 2008. Webronza contracts many debaters in Japan, and provides various columns in many categories such as politics, economics or science and technology. In general, Webronza is based on subscribed monthly payments, but customers can choose to purchase a total package with 735 yen/month (€7,35; $9,37) or subcategory package with 262 yen/month (€2,66; $3,34). Unfortunately the service is not a self-supporting one yet.
On the other hand, Blogos (blogos.com) is managed by major portal site Livedoor (livedoor.com), and leads ahead in finding new debaters. Basically, Blogos simply reproduces full articles from existing blog entries from various blogs found by its editors. Articles on Blogos publish links to original blog posts. The style means professional editors curate arguments about current issues, but the authors of the articles vary from famous debaters through to bedroom bloggers. In this way viewers can read and compare various opinions on the same platform. Nanapi (nanapi.jp) may not strictly be considered journalism, but their concept is interesting. They adopt writers from their readers, and provide content which they call “life recipes”. In reply to an interview, the administers had said they are interested in information stock rather than information flow, and think their mission is to provide durable information stock in this rapidly flowing stream of information.
The history of medical news website, CB news (cabrain.net/news) is quite unique. CBnews had originally managed Career Brain co., a company introducing jobs to medical workers. Career Brain co. had wanted to raise its profile and attract more medical workers their site; and therefore started collecting and uploading medical news. Ironically, this medical news became popular and is now expanding, thus the dependence of CBnews costs to Career Brain is increasing. CBnews is currently trying to establish a self-supporting accounting system.
A peculiar phenomenon in Japan is that pay mail magazine services such as Magmag (mag2.com) or Yakanhiko (yakan-hiko.com) are quite popular. When customers sign up to a mail magazine by their favourite journalist or disputant’s mail magazine through a similar service, they receive weekly e-mail magazines including celebrity columns or confidential reports by journalists for about 500-800 yen/month (€5,07-8,11, $6,38-10,20). Yakanhiko has already branched out to e-publishing. Niconico (nicovideo.jp), a subsidiary of Dwango co. ltd. since 2006 may be the most successful technology-driven service on the web in the past five years. Niconico adopted a freemium (Anderson 2009) model, and financially turned into black in November 2010. It had been announced in September 2011 that they have 24 million free-account users, 1.4 million subscribing membership users, and 6.9 million mobile account users. Sales in 2010 were about worth 10 billion yen and operating income about 670 million yen (€6,79 million; $8,55 million). At first glance, Niconico’s website looks like any other live video streaming service such as Ustream, but unlike others, comments are overlaid directly onto the video, and are synched to a specific playback time. This unique technology may seem disordered, but it succeeded in giving the audience a way to join in the experience. Users can upload their original videos, and paying users can broadcast their own live stream programs. Niconico is also favoured by amateur artists who can see audience reactions more directly than compared to Ustream. Therefore, Niconico has been at the center of consumer-generated media culture movements like vocaloid Hatsune Miku. Niconico started off as merely a video streaming service, but has grown to become a center for entertainment, and is now orienting towards journalism. Nowadays they have “Niconico news” where part-time or contributing journalists report original stories and videos on one channel. Once a 2 days live event entitled Niconico cho kaigi (Niconico super conference) was held at Makuhari Messe International Convention Center on May 2012, attracting 92,384 people. This had been reported in legacy media as a social phenomenon.
These architecture(technology)-driven services tend to adopt freemium models, but in terms of journalism, such kind of systems could often lead to the formation of closed opinion enclosures. For example, if the publisher of mailmag is a journalist, the only debates and discussions opened up are those from people paying to hear him or her.
Entrepreneurships from subculture to journalism
Pinpointing consumer targets is important and efficient for advertisers, and therefore subculture news is favoured and much more efficient in making profits compared to tackling political or social issues. Furthermore, in an age where master narrative has been lost, social agendas sometimes arise from the peripheral subculture.
ICT magazines which focused on upcoming computer and Internet technologies were the first type of legacy media to suffer after the rise of the Internet. Circulation numbers of such magazines were rising from the 1980s to its peak at the end of the 20th century. Once into the 21st century this number dropped drastically, and by 2005 the market size had shrunk to half its original size. Many ICT magazines closed down, but the necessity of the information still remains. ITmedia (itmedia.co.jp) is one of the surviving websites which has adapted to the media evolution. ITmedia’s main income comes from ad banners or textlink ads, but they also earn money through making advertisement columns or holding paid seminars and events. IID Inc. (iid.co.jp) chose risk dispersion tactics and has various niche sites for their users such as ICT news at RBB Today (rbbtoday.com), motorvehicle news at Response (response.jp), and gaming website Inside (inside-games.jp).
Subcultural news sites tend to have their own characteristics. Takuya Oyama, president of music and Manga culture site Natarie (natalie.mu) says they are “avoiding to enclose users”, and place greater importance on collaborating with portal sites. This fact seems to contradict the nature of “sub”-culture, but it is natural when considering how they enrich main culture and generate a steady flow of users. It may be disputed to whether these subculture news sites adopt a journalistic business models or not, but Kenji Okumura from RBB today says, “we will not accommodate ourselves to other companies, and will keep side by side to the users”. Sustaining such an attitude is the root of journalism. For example, subcultures like Manga or Anime have always been at the frontline of debate about freedom of expression or regulation. In these cases, the arguments spread out across subculture sites involve much deeper and detailed discussions about law and freedom compared to legacy media articles.
Comprehensive and geeky subculture sites such as Rocket news 24 (rocketnews24.com), Gadget Tsushin (getnews.jp) and Gigazine (gigazine.net) are popular subculture news websites which also investigate hard political issues. They attract an enormous number of readers by uploading geeky news, celebrity gossip and flaming reports on the web. But because of its entertainment bias, these sites have been labelled as a type of Internet tabloid. However, following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, these websites did real journalistic work. When government and legacy media were stunned and consistently regurgitating official reports, these sites actively verified rumours on web and testified governmental information by interviewing experts. These actions actually helped contribute to build social agendas.
Tasks for sustainability
When thinking about the sustainability of online journalism in Japan, a shortage of able journalists might be a far serious problem than economical sustainability. For example, several journalism education programs had been setup in universities after World War II, but most of them closed down by the mid 20th century (Waseda University’s J-School to which this author belongs to is the only graduate school for journalism in Japan which was set up in 2008). This is because every legacy media company in Japan has been avoiding hiring graduates from journalism education program and has tried to train their own journalists. As a result, most journalists today who are active on the Internet come from legacy media, and there are few opportunities for bedroom bloggers to become journalists. Several alternative media companies are eager to train young journalists or citizen journalists, but the future of those trainees cannot be guaranteed. Many sites contract freelance journalists, but the pay is too low to be able to maintain their lifestyle. This is also hindering the entry of newcomers into the journalism market. Creating a sustainable supply of manpower to online journalism is a severe challenge facing Japan now.
Another challenge is the balance between content diversity and the sustainability of public forums with different opinions. Globalization of debates on the public sphere is on the increase in Japan, although it is still far behind other countries, especially in relation to neighbouring countries like Korea or China. At the same time, journalistic activity among this field is also on the rise. Record China (recordchina.co.jp) provides Chinese news from political topics to light reports on their own website, and even provides news to legacy media and portal sites. Record China is growing rapidly, and they have now started a sister bilateral website named Record Japan aimed at Chinese audiences. In comparison, A Power Magazine (apower-magazine.net) carries out more grass-routed activities. The first “A” on the site’s name stands for the word “Asia”, and they are expanding their free web magazine towards international students living in Japan. The company is now mainly funded by investments and financing. While sites such as these are attempting to provide other points-of-views to détente tensions, other domestic sites in Japan tend to encourage nationalism. For example, the gigantic, anonymous bulletin board system site 2-channel (2chan; 2ch.net) has lead the Japanese Internet culture since it began. 2-channel is huge and has an enormous number of sub-categories, but it is merely a BBS. Currently, private websites called ”matome site (curation sites)” are popular because they edit popular threads from 2-channel and package them into readable sizes. From time to time, however, they emphasize some opinions or biases in a nationalistic and discriminative manner to make it more eye-catching and radical in order to increase views. It is rumoured that top matome sites earn several million yen or more every year thanks to advertising. Geek websites such as Rocket News or Gadget Tsushin (described above) sometimes pick up popular articles in matome sites, and occasionally from legacy media. Therefore, these matome sites have some agenda setting functions. Territorial disputes or migrant workers’ problem have raised tensions between neighbouring countries, and in order to create a more wholesome, comprehensive and sustainable journalism in this age of globalization, bridging the gap between those different opinions in Japan’s Internet sphere is a task needing to be urgently addressed.
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1 Mikihito Tanaka’s work was supported by MEXT KAKENHI Grant Number 23700301
2 Numbers without quotes in this report are based on or calculated from the Japanese statistical yearbook (Nihon Tokei Nenkan 2012) , Information and Communication white paper 2011 from the Japanese ministry of internal affairs and communications (Jyoho Tsushin Hakusyo 2012) and its up to date data website (Tsushin Riyo Doko Chosa, 2012).
3 Numbers without quotes in this report are based on or calculated from the Japanese statistical yearbook (Nihon Tokei Nenkan 2012) , Information and Communication white paper 2011 from the Japanese ministry of internal affairs and communications (Jyoho Tsushin Hakusyo 2012) and its up to date data website (Tsushin Riyo Doko Chosa, 2012).