Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the suicide of an Asahi Shimbun reporter and what it says about the state of journalism right now, especially with regards to daily newspapers. I, of course, write this column for a daily newspaper and have had to contend with the issues discussed in the piece on an ongoing basis, but since I’m a freelancer my particular difficulties are different from those of staff writers, whose problems with management has a direct effect on what news is reported and how it’s reported. Coincidentally, Shukan Bunshun, the only media I know of that covered the Asahi reporter’s death, last week ran another story about local news. Apparently, a fair portion of the English language writers who work for Kyodo, the biggest news service in Japan, have been quitting lately, thus putting the company in a severe situation since its reach beyond Japan depends greatly on translations of its Japanese content as well as original English language reporting. The people who are leaving, it seems, are young and foreign educated, and though the article doesn’t go into enough detail it sounds like a typical example of power harassment, meaning the reporters in question are being regularly scolded, but not necessarily for incompetence. It seems to have more to do with the stories they submit and how they cover them. I’m not sure if these reporters think they can easily find work owing to their bilingual skills, but, in any case, they obviously don’t believe it’s worth their while to work for people who don’t appreciate their value. How much of this friction is due to the usual age-oriented, hierarchical hazing you tend to find in Japanese organizations I can’t tell, but even if that is the case, young workers shouldn’t have to put up with it.
Taking the wider view, if this is how news organizations treat new recruits it doesn’t bode well for an industry that’s already in trouble. In the past, Japanese media people were hired straight out of college and not necessarily because of their field of study or expertise. It usually had more to do with the school they attended and the whim of the recruiter. As with all corporate hiring in Japan, the idea was that the rookie would be trained on the job according to the company’s peculiar needs and internal culture, and that included reporters, who often didn’t have any journalistic training before they were brought on board, so for most there was no grounding in what we tend to call journalistic ethics. But now an increasing number of young university students are looking toward a career in journalism, and the unfortunate reporter for the Asahi Shimbun was described as just such an idealist. His particular problems arose when that idealism clashed with the practical economic needs of his editor, but it may have also had something to do with the notion that young college grads are no longer as malleable as the corporate patriarchy expects them to be.