Newsprint circulations remain enormous in high-tech Japan – and one publisher has even resorted to medieval methods to ensure copies reach readers.
When the March 2011 tsunami struck, 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 on its doorstep, but no way of printing it.
So its reporters did what monks in European monasteries once did with the bible by copying out their stories by hand.
It’s an example of the ongoing intimate relationship between newspapers and readers that has long eroded in the West.
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.
Ripping reams of paper from useless printers, staff picked up 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.
One survivor, Yukie Yamada, said: “All the people at the shelter flocked to the wall paper every day… the newspaper gave us what we really needed.”
The wall papers were delivered for six days, until electricity was restored and the journalists were able to produce copies on a standard computer printer.
Takeuchi said: “Our newspaper was being published by the victims for the victims. No matter what, we should spearhead our community. This is the social mission of a daily hit by natural disasters.”
According to the World Association of Newspapers, Japan has the second-highest newspaper penetration of any country, with readership of paid dailies at 92% of the population, behind only Iceland.
Japan has the world’s three biggest-selling daily newspapers led by the Yomiuri Shimbun, which claims a circulation of 13.5m copies a day.
Its morning edition alone sells more copies than all of Britain’s national dailies put together.
Newspapers are standard reading fare for Japanese people on their typically lengthy train commutes to and from work, in a society that ascribes huge value to literacy and learning.
Mitsushi Akao, a lecturer on journalism at Meiji University, said newspapers face little threat from Japan’s relatively under-developed internet news sites.
“Newspapers maintain higher public confidence… A majority of young people collect information from the internet but its sources are often newspapers.”
And Tsutomu Kanayama, professor of media studies at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, pointed out that the business models of Japan’s newspapers are different to those elsewhere in the developed world.
He said: “The Japanese newspaper industry relies heavily on its solid home-delivery system, which has long covered the entire nation minutely
But Kanayama believes that what is happening to papers in the United States and Britain will affect Japan sooner or later. “There is a tough time ahead for the industry,” he said.
Source: AFP/France 24