Without question, the Internet and social media have dramatically changed the way we work, and, most important to communication professionals, the way we communicate. “The Internet phenomenon, pure and simple, has been a revolution,” said Fraser Seitel, NYU PR professor in his book, The Practice of Public Relations.
This blog post is about the implication of changing media on the Japanese PR community. Based on my experience as a PR officer for a Japanese government organization, I will focus on Kisha Kurabu (reporters clubs) to describe the battle between traditional and new media.
Kisha Kurabu, in other words reporters clubs, represent Japan’s unique system of media relations in the post-war era. Reporters clubs are attached to organizations such as central and local government agencies, and major corporations. For example, Monka Kisha Kurabu, which covers educational, science and technology issues, is located in the building of Japan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. The members mainly consist of major TV networks and newspapers including the Yomiuri Shinbun newspaper, which has the largest readership in the world (it sells 14 million copies daily).
The clubs act as channels for distribution of official information from organizations, but have recently been exposed to criticism for their exclusivity: they restrict open and free flow of information. Organizations and reporters clubs limited press events – such as press conferences – to their member journalists. This prevented journalists from outside the clubs, including the Net and foreign media, from accessing news sources. Nowadays organizations are open to non-member journalists. But many of the organizations still give non-members only observer status — they can join press events, but cannot ask questions. That’s why the reporters club system is called the cartelization of information by Japanese mainstream media.
Break Down the Wall
On November 11, 2011, to challenge the exclusive system, non-member journalists such as the Net media and freelancers launched the new media organization named the Free Press Assiciation of Japan (FPAJ). FPAJ allows any journalist (including foreign media) to join press conferences it hosts and to ask questions. Web media stream the whole conferences live to the audience. This attracts speakers including big name politicians and business leaders who had rejected requests from Kisha Kurabu to media events held by FPAJ. This is because they do not have to worry about information manipulation by news editors of major media, who often use only negative parts of speakers’ comments. Owing to FPAJ, the roles and influence of Kisha Kurabu are allegedly diminishing, and their position as opinion leaders are flagging.
Based on my experience, there is a benefit of Kisha Kurabu. When an organization plans to hold a press conference or distribute a press release, it can talk about its schedule with Kanji-sha, a contact person of a reporters club. While a source organization wants to reach a wider audience, reporters want news and know the best timing through their strong network in the club. If the schedule conflicts with big events by other organizations, the contact person may suggest that the organization should change the schedule. The organization may listen to the advice, because the suggestion will help it reach a wider public through the reporters club members, including major media. If the organization wants to have the press events as originally scheduled, they can do so.
Media technologies have dramatically changed the way we communicate, and have influenced Japan’s media world. Emerging journalism backed by new communication tools is changing the traditional Kisha Kurabu system. The relationship between source organizations and reporters clubs may sound cozy and antithetical to foreigners including American professional communicators. But as mentioned above, the system still has benefits.
So my question for you: what do you think about Kisha Kurabu? Do you think the reporters club system will be able to survive? Comments, advice, and words of wisdom.
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