Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dear Japanese MSM: Free your information!

I have to second W. David Marx's gripe at META no TAME about the lack of free access to the content of Japanese dailies. I would also add that the Japanese MSM should be embarrassed by the shallowness of their online archives and the skimpiness of their RSS feeds. (On this latter point Yomiuri should be especially embarrassed — although I suspect that Mr. Watanabe doesn't care.)

Actually, even worse than the dailies are the magazines. In recent days I've used the deep archives of both Time and Atlantic (all 150 years now free*) for research.

By contrast, the online content of Japanese monthlies seems to stop at the table of contents of current issues.

Does Japan's information want to be free?

7 comments:

W. David Marx said...

Why do we assume that all societies fundamentally believe that information should be free? Japan does not seem to share this belief, and I don't mean that cynically. I think there is a lot of evidence that there is a general feeling that information should be controlled. This is seen in the mechanics of the kisha clubs (a system created to punish "scoops" and control leaks) and in the entertainment industry's economic punishment against publishers that print unflattering information about stars.

From a personal standpoint, I have met a lot of editors over the year who have a lot more information than what they are printing. They are intentionally holding back, and was recently told that it's because they like to trade gossip with "other editors." The media class generally sees themselves as more aligned with their sponsors or other companies rather than to "the people." Sure some freelancers leak information through the shukanshi, but serious news is mixed with lurid sex stories and complete ficiton.

Japan Observer said...

I've heard it said that Japanese reporters both know more about what's going in and report less of what they know than, say, American reporters.

There is a clear lack of a "service ethic" in Japanese journalism, at least as far as political journalism is concerned. The question is whether that's the result of close relationships forged between reporters and their subjects or media kingpins and prime ministers (or both).

LD said...

Information in Japan doesn’t want to be free because holding information behind walls of clubs, membership organizations and closed associations is the cement that justifies and structures power. Elsewhere, giving away brings back home fame and recognition. Here, it dilutes your status. That’s why I can have access to innumerable resources from US universities, online courses, conferences, articles by truckloads, and mostly nothing in Japan. Check the paltry trial of Todai with video podcasts. Even the farthest remote, most arcane tiny group with a newsletter here will not publish it online. The interesting point though is to ponder about the impact this scarcity of free knowledge and information in Japanese language to - first - Japanese people will have in the long run.

AC said...

In addition to the considerations mentioned by David Marx and yourself (which I agree with completely), it's worth keeping in mind that while U.S. newspapers like the New York Times make much more of their content available online for free, they're in dire financial straits compared to the Japanese dailies. I don't doubt that that's a consideration in the media here continuing to keep a lid on their information.

David said...

Let me over-simplify. Closed-society vs. Open-society. Japan has been, is, and probably will continue to be the first.

LD said...

Financial fitness of Japanese dailies is unclear and blurred by the traditional saying that every Japanese household subscribes to a newspaper. At the same time, the Nikkei for instance is clearly getting thinner these days, although it is not a family newspaper. I have heared from insider's source that the Asahi is "struggling" to keep readers. Maybe a matter of time.

CEJ said...

Well I'm sure Time and Atlantic have deep archives--it is just that they suck for doing any real research.

As for Japan, the Japan Times has a good archive--for free--searchable with Google.

Western journalists covering Japan are overall lazy, conceited, and mostly in Tokyo doing what lazy, conceited people do.