Saturday, July 12, 2008

Asahi Reports on NYT Reports on Iranian Missile Launch: Shouldn’t Meta-Reporting Be Done More Cheaply?

This morning’s Asahi reports on a July 10 New York Times online report on the two near-identical photos of the Iranian missile launch; one from AFP showing four missiles in the air, the other from AP showing three in the air and another still on the ground.

Q: Why did it take a full day and-a-half to condense the fairly trivial NYT report—the Washington Post didn’t bother to run a mismatch story—when CNN had already reported later in the day (nearly a full day before Asahi posted its version on its website) a more significant story on the actual substance of the two-day missile launches*?

Asahi has a very slow connection on the Internets, and does not subscribe to cable TV.

I take note of this because it reminded me that an American asked me the other day why so much of the stateside news in the Japanese dailies is copied from the U.S. media and I didn’t have a good answer at the time. I see that the U.S. media also cites Japanese media reports from time to time. I also recognize that local reports are useful sources, not only for their content, but also as a social and political force in their own right. Meta-reporting has its own value. But Japanese media have, at least collectively, more resources on the ground in New York and Washington. My guesses:

1) Japanese reporters don’t have the foreign language skills to do interviews.
2) Their overseas assignments are too short to develop the personal contacts that enable them to generate
3) They miss the domestic kasha club system, where the political institutions, bureaucracies, business associations and other institutionalized news sources systematically feed their constituent media representatives. The English-language media, now much of their content conveniently online, are their virtual substitutes.

What do you think?

You know what? I think that the Japanese media can profitably move much of their overseas reporting home side, especially in OECD countries, and put some of the savings—my guesstimate is that a foreign correspondent takes at least two to three times as much corporate resources, financial and otherwise, to maintain and service than a domestic one—to good use by beefing up the original content generation activities in their foreign correspondence bureaus.

Incidentally, as of this morning Tokyo Time, Matt Drudge has a news flash item that I’ve copied below, after the footnote. If true, there’ll an even bigger NYT story later in the day that should have a downward impact on the oil market. Isn’t that the kind of information that online readers would appreciate?

* The CNN does mention the doctored photo, but it’s an appropriately minor point in the story.

** One of the reasons media people read Matt Drudge must be to get these leads so that they can avoid being scooped other media outlets. Then again, some of these leaks may be deliberate, to create a buzz so that their own reports attract more eyeballs and hopefully generate more revenue.

ADD. ...forgot to paste the following...

Fri Jul 11 2008 15:18:02 ET

Many of Iran's claims related to missile tests during "Great Prophet III" war games -- appear to be smoke and mirrors!

The missiles tested DID NOT not have 2,000-kilometer range, the NEW YORK TIMES is planning to report on Saturday.

Iran DID NOT launch a Shahab-3 missile, able to reach Israel.

It was an older missile that was out of production, newsroom sources tell DRUDGE.

And a video showing what appeared to be many missiles being fired -- is actually one missile, filmed from different angles!

NYT's Bill Broad is planning to quote military insiders.



Christopher said...

I have a little anecdote that gives me reason to believe your guess 1 may be wrong.

Back in 1998, my father was running for Congress versus Henry Hyde, in the Chicago suburbs. In that year Hyde chaired the House Judiciary Committee which was overseeing the Clinton impeachment. At one point Salon broke a story about Hyde's extramarital affair back when he was a state legislator, which I remember as pretty big news.

A day or two after the story broke, a reporter from some Japanese newspaper arrived at our front door in the morning, while we were eating breakfast. My father invited him in and gave him an interview while eating breakfast. My father was a longshot candidate and this was the only time anyone in the media outside the Chicago area ever talked to him. I wonder if that reporter flew in from the east coast just for that, or he happened to be in Chicago already?

Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the newspaper. (I remember at the time thinking that "Shimbun" was a funny name for a paper, but the reporter explained that it was Japanese for "Times". Come to think of it, even now 「新聞」 seems a little odd for describing something in printed form.) Some day I will try to look it up and see if anything made to it to print as a result of the interview.

Anyway, his English was fine. All the Japanese I ever met in the US had far better facility with English than most Americans I met in Japan had with Japanese.

Jun Okumura said...

Thanks, Chris. I'm modifying my opinion somewhat based on your comment and an email that I received from stateside. I'll do it in a separate post.

Graham said...

While Christopher's experience is one example, I have heard from several current and former employees of Asahi in the United States that the correspondents are not usually very good at English.

But that doesn't really matter, because the main part of the repeated impression (this is from native U.S. employees in the bureaus) is that the "assistant" does the bulk of the reporting, and the correspondent deals with rendering it in Japanese and publishes it under his (almost always a him) byline.

(This was normal practice too for U.S. reporters until the post-Jayson Blair era started requiring reporters to credit their "researchers," who often found most or all of the information in there.)

As for the "slow internet" excuse ;-) It was a breath of fresh air to arrive earlier this year in Osaka after living in Beijing for more than six months and use a regular-speed internet connection with no censorship! Luxury!

Jun Okumura said...


Note, slow "Internets". Seriously, I know what you're talking about, on an intellectual level. It must be frustrating.

I'm waiting for permission from my stateside source, which leans more to your side, to use his material before I upload. I'll refer to your comment as well when I do that. The Jason Blair story alone is worth repeating. The Economist maintains its immunity from this issue by continuing to forsake bylines altogether.

Martin J Frid said...

When I worked at NHK we had plenty of Japanese people who were fluent in English, French, Arabic, Russian, Chinese... And if they had a quote that needed translating from other languages, there are all the staff at their NHK World department.

Jun Okumura said...

Thanks for the information, Martin.

I'm not surprised to hear what Martin is saying. NHK, as he knows but some of the overseas people reading this blog may not, is the national broadcasting network, similar to, say BBC. It does more straight-news reporting that the private networks, though there are specialized mainly-business-news cable channels. NHK also has a legal mandate to provide foreign-language broadcasts.

NHK, again somewhat analogous to BBC, is funded by a quasi-levy on all households (and other establishments) that have TV sets. This makes it possible for it to put resources into less-profitable or even money-losing operations.