Of Japanese newspapers & bond with readers
AFP ISHINOMAKI PRINTED newspapers may be in crisis in the West but circulations remain enormous in high-tech Japan — and its media will even resort to medieval methods to get copies to readers.
When the March 2011 tsunami struck a great swathe of the northeast coast, leaving 19,000 people dead or missing and triggering the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it also submerged the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun’s presses.
The 14,000-circulation paper had the biggest story of its 100-year existence right on its flooded doorstep, but no way of printing it.
So its reporters did what monks in European monasteries did with the Bible in the Middle Ages and copied out their message to the people by hand. It is an example of an intimate relationship between newspapers and readers that has long eroded in the West and means that Japan’s print media have been less damaged by the havoc wreaked by new media, analysts say.
“We had a meeting with our staff that night to discuss what to do,” recalled Hiroyuki Takeuchi, the Ishinomaki paper’s chief editor.
“We agreed that any local newspaper would lose its raison d’etre if it gave up delivering a service when its community is in crisis.” The back-to-basics approach was the idea of Koichi Ohmi, the daily’s manager and a columnist. “Come on!” he told the staff. “We can still issue newspapers with just pens and paper.” Ripping reams of paper from useless printers, they seized pens and wrote out what survivors needed to know most of all — the status of each district, ration schedules and medical services information.
With their distribution network non-existent and no vehicles available, the reporters walked to evacuation centres where homeless victims had found refuge, and pinned up their publication.
Yukie Yamada, a 44-year-old female survivor, said: “All the people at the shelter flocked to the wall paper every day and stared intently at every single article. The newspaper gave us what we really needed.”