Old media fade, new media proliferate: Which is best?

By Michael Hoffman
Photo: scanrail/iStock

Imagine life without newspapers. We may soon be living it.

Newspapers in one form or another have been around in Japan since the 17th century, innocent and unpolitical at first, less so as time passed. By the late 19th century their very existence, associated as they were with an embryonic political opposition, was seen – rightly – as a challenge to absolute rule, which responded at times with blunt suppression.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The press grew. In 1919 an estimated 80 percent of Tokyo workers were newspaper subscribers. The 1917 Russian Revolution showed clearly enough what an awakened proletariat could lead to. As the relatively liberal “Taisho democracy” of the 1920s faded into the militarism of the ’30s, journalists faced a stark choice: Toe the official line or be branded subversive. Most toed the line.

Postwar, the press came back into its own, a “fourth estate” under constitutional protection, its eye on power lest power get out of hand, as it so recently had with such catastrophic consequences. Democracy is unthinkable without a watchdog probing, questioning, investigating and reporting fairly and objectively what it sees going on. The public must know and has a right to know. The press suppressed, blinded or muted is democracy undone.

So this is what’s at stake as Shukan Gendai (Dec 23) reports “the great newspaper collapse.”

For a quarter of a century it’s been gathering momentum. Newspaper readership in Japan peaked in 1997 at 53.76 million copies. It’s now 30.84 million. Extinction, though not certain, is in view. Should we worry?

The five major national dailies – in order of circulation Yomiuri, Asahi, Mainichi, Nihon Keizai and Sankei – are all losing readers at what seems an alarming pace: Yomiuri down 32 percent between 2003 and 2022, Asahi 48 percent, Mainichi 52 percent, Nihon Keizai 43 percent, Sankei 52 percent. They’re losing staff too. Who wants to write for newspapers these days? Blogging and posting are so much freer – no bosses telling you what to cover, no desk editors shredding your copy of everything that gave it value in your, the writer’s, eyes. You may not earn as much on your own (then again you may, or more) but what are money and career advancement beside the heady freedom now within the grasp of everyone who reaches for it?

Editor-reporter tensions are as old as journalism and have their good side no doubt, encouraging both sides to expand their thinking. But it’s a fine line between stimulation and repression, and journalists who feels repressed can now say to themselves – and are increasingly quick to do so – “This medium is an anachronism anyway – the future is elsewhere.”

“There were 35 freshmen journalists who came in with me,” Gendai hears from former Mainichi Shimbun political reporter Kenta Miyahara. The key word is “former,” though he’s only 27. “Half of them have already left” – as he has himself. He now operates a YouTube channel whose political analysis and live conversations draw 5,000 subscribers.

The brain drain began before he joined and picked up speed. The staff pool shrinks but news doesn’t, forcing more and more coverage on fewer and fewer hands too overburdened (and sleepless besides) to work in depth, while editors add insult to injury with stinging reprimands when rivals scoop them.

Can a medium bleeding readers and writers survive long? Assuming not, can new digital media fill the vacuum? Traditional journalism’s pride has always been its commitment to truth and objectivity. Online journalism is free to veer into “post-truth” and subjectivity – in extreme cases, into naked prejudice. Newspaper editors keep reporters in check – making nuisances of themselves sometimes but also maintaining standards, which online reporting is free to skirt. Proponents of unfettered online journalism say the mainstream press is merely part of the power establishment and tells the public only what serves its interests. The mainstream counters that the post-mainstream has interests too, often uninhibitedly crude ones.

It’s an increasingly troubled world. More than ever we need to know what’s going on. Old media fade, new media proliferate – meaning we understand more and more, or that we understand less and less?

© Japan Today

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There's no new media, only trashy websites with clickbait and really good in maximizing on number click for their revenue streams.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

One thing is for sure: social media is a curse on having an educated public.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

One thing is for sure: social media is a curse on having an educated public

Educated is important.

One problem with things like Joe Rogan is that while long form interviews can be useful, the uneducated watch one of these interviews and think they know half of what there is to know about the issue.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

I used to always buy newspapers or/and get the free ones when I lived in London.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Reading newspaper makes a good habit and it will widen your outlook and will enrich your knowledge. Reading newspaper makes you well informed.

I used to always buy newspapers or/and get the free ones when I lived in London.

What is stopping you from continuing this habit?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Newspaper readership in Japan peaked in 1997 at 53.76 million copies. It’s now 30.84 million.

I guess the numbers refer to paper newspapers. But what about the numbers of those reading online news sites? Is reading the Asahi Shimbun online so different from reading the paper version?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Haven't bought a newspaper in years, rarely watch TV or listen to radio, everything I need is online.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I tend to read this esteemed online news site and Yahoo. However, Yahoo has really gone downhill. First of all it is not obvious who the writer is, the articles are pretty much presented with a political agenda, and my impression is that the articles are getting long and pointless probably because they are written by AI with no editorial staff to cut it. Journalism is an important and fundamental profession for a democracy so I hope the situation improves.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Millions get their news from Youtube, Facebook, Tiktok, or Twitter. Which means those companies' algorithm's are deciding what you get. I trust those much less than I'd trust the editors of old media, who are themselves biased.

I think its actually good to pay for journalism, but not necessarily as print journalism.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It is inevitable that online news is taking over. I still enjoy sitting with a paper and reading. Flipping from page to page is faster than online news and I can sit on the couch and be comfortable. However, I use the web, too. The more sources used means that a person can decide better what in the story is true or fuzzy. This is especially true at election time. But soon enough the web will become the only source of news. It is the 21st century. Things change.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Based on the reporting and comments here on Japan Today,à clearly old media is better. When newspapers ruled the world, letters from readers were well thought out and from intelligent people. Reporters actually got scoops and researched facts instead of repeating verbatim what a politician or police official said to say. Nowadays, nutters make click bait news and folks who are bonkers comment on them. Sickening, really.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The power of the truth; simply told. Physical print (vs. electronic print) works for me for a few reasons.

You are glued to the paper only and can only move around within the paper.

You can mark it up or place bookmarks after reading.

Newspapers don't strain your eyes and doesn't affect your brain's vibes at night unlike electronics.

Newspaper has many other uses after reading it, such as wrapping paper, cleaning house, etc.

There's nothing like the smell of fresh and crisp printed material.

From a personal experience, reading and folding a newspaper properly and cleanly develops your own pattern of personal organization.
0 ( +0 / -0 )

More important than whether people read printed newspapers or not is the question of whether people receive the education or otherwise get the skills to think critically. I fear the ability to read or watch informational shows and independently evaluate what is said and what is not said is not cultivated or taught in our public schools today. I worry about it when I look at American media and the upcoming presidential and local elections. I worry about it when I look at Japanese English-language education and "teaching for the tests" rather than for practical life. I worry about it when I listen or watch "news" and see one news source quoting other news sources rather than independently verifying or analyzing what is spreading around as entities try to scoop each other or to glean market share by feeding the public what seems to be popular.

I don't mind where I get my information from. I do mind when I read unsourced pablum masquerading as information and sheeple thrirsting for entertainment or something that reinforces their prejudices rather than challenging therm.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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