Christopher speaks from personal experience that Japanese correspondents do have the language skills to conduct interviews. (He gives us a fascinating anecdote of a Japanese correspondent literally homing in on a Henry Hyde story, of all things. Which is a good argument for reading the comments as well.) And yes, he’s right, their English skills are (usually) better than the Japanese language skills of foreign correspondents in Japan. On the other hand, I have received a less charitable opinion in an email from a Washington source, which also relates this problem to difficulties in developing personal contacts. A comment from Graham, in China, on that same post, corroborates my source.* So I’m modifying my conjecture somewhat, to the following:
Japanese correspondents are generally good enough to conduct set-piece interviews but often deficient in the intercultural and language skills to wing it, or to develop personal contacts that turn into news sources. This compounds the rotation problem. I am personally aware, though, that there are people who walk that extra mile, a few of whom I consider friends. A further valid point: Few if any Japanese correspondents whatever their level of English proficiency—much less their foreign correspondent counterparts in Japan—could make do without help from the local staff.
On the relative merits of online sources and local, on-the-spot, coverage, my stateside source recognizes the usefulness of the former, but also “see[s] the benefit in a lot of cases in being on the ground, seeing, smelling, and know what is going on”. My source gives as an example the set of morning gaggles and afternoon briefings that the local staff attends assiduously. However, my source says, though, that in this specific case, AFP caught the story from a blog and wrote the newswire before “the blog [went] viral”. It’s not an either-or thing; on that, we are in agreement.
Finally, yes, I have it from unimpeachable sources that Asahi does have cable TV and that most reporters there log on to the light-speed Internet and not the Internets, which are a set of tubes that use recordings of whale mating calls to transmit information.
PS: My source adds that State Department gaggles are not transcribed, so you have to be there to get them. Otherwise, the source is cool with this post.
* ADD. July 13.