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Issues of Journalism and Academism as Viewed from the Field

The qualities required in a journalist and issues confronting the field of journalism were discussed from the different perspectives of Misuzu Tamaru, who is active in the front lines of television journalism, and Professor Seishi Sato, who works in the development of journalists.

Everyone has the opportunity to awaken to social problems

At the Kanshiso (Tea Ceremony Style House) in Okuma Garden

Sato: Ms. Tamaru, your work has paved the way for female journalists and created the foundation of television journalism. What made you decide to pursue a career at a television station?

Tamaru: Initially, I never had the wildest notion of becoming a journalist. However, by chance, I happened to see a recruitment ad from Fuji Television on the bulletin board of the job-search center, and I went to an interview with the intention of seeing what happened. At the interview, I was surprised because the interview asked very telling questions and listened intently to what I had to say. At the time, the Equal Employment Act did not yet exist, and the questions asked to female college students were all akin to "Can you serve tea?" I remember wondering why women are discriminated against as opposed to men, and finding the issue of discrimination to be unfair. This may have been when my awareness towards social issues took shape.

Sato: I'm sure that the number of women working in reporting was still small at that time.

Tamaru: Nowadays, we have reached an age in which female casters are running programs. However, when I first entered Fuji Television, it was even said that news lacked credibility when read in a female voice. Therefore, I was treated as being impudent when I voiced my desire to be part of a news program. Even so, as I did a variety of field work and gathered materials for stories, I began to strongly feel that the state of the world was not right and that changes must be made. I also began to stand on my own two feet as a beginning journalist. I don't really wish to discuss the differences between men and women, but female reporters are said to have a higher level of communication ability. Television stations have begun to employ female reporters because they are skilled at eliciting comments from police officials and politicians, and they have courage. Although, a male-oriented society still exists in actuality.

Professor Sato, at what time did you begin to have an interest in journalism?

Sato: I wanted to become a newspaper reporter ever since I was a high school student. So, I searched for a university that had produced a large number of newspaper reporters, and I entered the Waseda University School of Political Science and Economics. In the political and economic climate of that time, almost all students wanted to become journalists or involved in publishing.

Tamaru: There certainly are a large number of Waseda graduates involved in journalism. I have the feeling that the Waseda sprit of bankara (barbarian-collar) adversity is well suited for journalism. I also have a lot of friends who are graduates of Waseda. There is the impression that many of the people in the baby-boomer generation are grim and tough, but you seem very mild, Professor Sato. Where you more uptight in the past? (laughing)

Sato: Inwardly, yes, I was! (laughing)

Tamaru: Well, it would be impossible for a person to become a journalist if they weren't tough. A person is rarely struck with the desire to become a journalist if they haven't had some experience that awakens there awareness towards social issues.

Sato: But anyone living will surely feel some sort of doubt or dissatisfaction with society. The voices of people with a high level of awareness gather to create public opinion. I believe that journalists are a cornerstone of this process.

Tamaru: Even if they aren't journalists, there are many people who have a greater effect on the world than journalists. For example, there is Ms. Eriko Fukuda, who is battling with the hepatitis C that she contracted during a blood transfer as an infant. I believe that our position is to convey and help the work of people like Ms. Fukuda.

Teaching theory and practice in the Journalism Course

Tamaru: What kind of instruction are you giving to students in the Journalism Course of the Graduate School of Political Science?

Sato: One thing that we teach is the skills of a journalist. We develop communication skills in writing and teaching. Also, in order to view the essence of society, I believe that it is important to develop critical thinking ability.

Tamaru: How do you teach critical thinking ability?

Sato: We use what we call methodology education. This refers to the study of methods for objectively assessing society in order to acquire critical thinking ability. In a certain sense, I think that this is the formation of an individual as a cultivated member of society. Ultimately, students study ways of thinking in relation to the public nature of free press that has been historically created.

Tamaru: I hope you can teach students that the current state of free press exists because their predecessors won the right-to-know, sometimes resisting the powers that be, and sometimes being coerced into cooperation.

Sato: A third concept central to the course is the theme known as "insight into journalism and media". Here, through theoretical study, we develop the "vision" to see into future based upon the past.

Tamaru: What does theoretical study consist of?

Sato: First, we use a theoretical, historical, and intellectual approach to study the roles and function of mass communication, journalism, and media in society. Furthermore, as a fourth concept central to the course, students can authentically study the theory and philosophy of various specialized fields such as politics, economics, society, internationalism, science, and culture.

Tamaru: So, in addition to theory, actual practice is also performed. I suppose that's because there is quite a difference between comprehending something on an intellectual level and actual doing it?

Sato: That's right. For example, "News Room" is one of our practical courses. Students train in implementing surveys, writing articles, and transmitting the news.

Tamaru: I have the feeling that many students today only engage in communication using a computer, or only within the small group of people surrounding them. How do you assess the temperament of the students?

Sato: I believe that your impression is generally true. The students have not had any practice in writing. Students in the Journalism Course are working their hardest to keep pace with very difficult practice exercises. However, they still may be lacking in the area of conveying their thoughts in a way that is understandable by others. To remedy this problem, we invite competent journalists and specialists in advertising to assist in the study of interviewing methods and speaking. This is an effort to strengthen the expressiveness of our students. Also, we are planning to create a space on campus that is freely accessible to active journalists and students. We hope that this will facilitate the exchange of ideas. I think that this plan will have good results for both students and journalists.

Tamaru: We also had interns come during summer vacation where I work, and they worked quite hard, even putting in all-nighters. Our staff was also happy to have the opportunity to work with young people. Corporations are looking for quality professionals to enter their ranks, so it would be great if more reciprocal relationships could be established between universities and actual work places.

Sato: Internships are key to the on-site approach which is the fifth concept at the core of our course. However, it seems that there were some students who called it quits at the internship reporting session that was held a few days ago.

Tamaru: Those students may have only been thinking with their heads. Journalists can only be successful by using their bodies as well. In the past, journalists seemed to be the epitome of bad health with their drinking, smoking, and lack of sleep. However, nowadays, I believe that a healthy mindset is on the increase.

Achievements and dangers of television journalism

Sato: What do feel most strongly when you consider current journalism?

Tamaru: Television journalism has advanced dramatically when compared to the past. In the past, there was a kind of inferiority complex towards the written media. However, nowadays, television journalism has acquired a material-gathering ability and drive that is on par with the written media. Reporting that takes advantage of rapid and simultaneous reporting is now performed, and I believe that compartmentalization has been well achieved. Actually, the trend of moving away from television is more serious. This trend has occurred because information can be acquired at any time from the internet. In the future, television stations will only be able to survive by creating a unified business format that encompasses multiple media such as the internet, movies, and DVD.

Sato: Even thought television possesses the strengths that you described, there is criticism that it is becoming too much like a tabloid. Ms. Tamaru, you have always created refined programs, which I'm sure has led to your confidence. On another note, the "crisis of publicity" is an issue confronting all forms of media.

Tamaru: One example of that is "Koizumi Gekijo (Theatre)". Television played a hand in the high approval ratings of Prime Minister Koizumi by featuring his words and actions. The media at that time overlooked the problems of a class-divided society and medical treatment for late-term senior citizens, both of which are big issues today. I believe that this is the responsibility of television journalism.

At any rate, politicians appear on television today at rate that is much higher than any time in the past. Television has achieved success in political journalism in terms of creating a place for politicians to speak directly to citizens and by increasing the transparency of politics. Conversely, if I were to criticize television, I would say that television can be used by politicians to achieve their ends. This is an area where we must care when creating a program, and an area where the substance of journalism is brought into question.

Another example that illustrates the danger of television is the reporting regarding the murder case of a mother and daughter that occurred in Hikari City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Television sided with the statements of the prosecutor, and there was collective and extreme support for the side of the victims. The way that the public views a defendant changes depending on the comments of the media. This is something that cannot be permitted, and it is much scarier than Koizumi Gekijo.

The jury system will soon be implemented in Japan. Right now, fierce debate is taking place regarding accident reporting that does not result in forejudging or the creation of opinions in advance.

Sato: As you said, response to the jury system is an urgent issue. Careful thought must be given to the relationship between public opinion and journalism. I believe that a vital role of journalism is to maintain public opinion that is truly representative of the masses.

Tamaru: We as journalists certainly have no intention to manipulate public opinion. In the first place, public opinion isn't such a weak thing. Of course, there is questioning of public opinion in journalism, but I believe that there is absolutely no place for reporting that has a negative effect on public opinion. But, we journalists also experience a variety of emotions, and there may be cases in which we side with public opinion. This is an extremely difficult area for journalists and one that always makes me tense.

Sato: A condition for being an outstanding journalist is whether or not you feel tension, isn't it?

Tamaru: I constantly feel that my words and actions are being questioned. During my career until now, there have been occasions when an inappropriate comment of mine offended a victim or a defendant, or caused trouble for one of my sources. Each time I make such a mistake, I feel my own inexperience. The more one is involved in this field of work, the more humble one must be.

Sato: The mass media fulfills an important role by conveying public opinion to society. Universities must also consider how to commit to the formation of a new public environment from an academic standpoint. Through our Journalism Course, we at Waseda hope to search for the ideal encounter of journalism and academism in the public sphere.

Journalist is a profession that questions the humanity of a person

Sato: Listening to what you have said here today, I get the feeling that you have established yourself as a journalist while working on-site.

Tamaru: That's true. I believe that a person who has affection for others and possesses curiosity will make a good journalist. If a person conducts an interview with a friendly smile - like you do, Professor Sato - then the interviewee will want to open up and talk more. Likewise, a newscaster requires a rich human sensibility that makes people want to listen to what he or she is saying.

Sato: It would sound technical if I described what you refer to as communication skills. Put succinctly, you are talking about humanity.

Tamaru: I believe that the ability to open your mind and converse with someone who holds a different opinion than yourself is very important. In some way, young people today think that seriousness argument or debate is unsightly. I want these young people to understand that in order to have other people accept you, it is necessary to use words and make the other person comprehend your views. On the other hand, young people today possess great sensitivity and it is fun to experience stimulation while talking with them. I hope that they can create a new world that we in the older generation couldn't even imagine.

Sato: When you work at a university, you discover that type of young people every day.

Tamaru: That's great. What do you enjoy most about your current work?

Sato: I like starting something new after debating with and convincing each other. The process of creating a Graduate School of Journalism was truly enjoyable. I had the opportunity to debate on Japanese journalism as much as I wanted, and I got to know many active journalists. Also, it is now really enjoyable for me to watch the process of students maturing.

Tamaru: I also feel that my work is truly wonderful. There is no retirement age (laughing) and it gives me a reason to live. This work continually provides an opportunity for improvement, and rewards me for making an effort. I also have many female colleagues who are working their hardest while also raising children. I am waiting for all of your students to make their entrance into the world of journalism.

Seishi Sato
Director of the Waseda University Graduate School of Political Science

Born in 1948. Graduated from the Waseda University School of Political Science and Economics. Completed the Doctoral Program at the Waseda University Graduate School of Political Science. Served as Assistant Professor at Fukuoka University of Education, Assistant Professor at Utsunomiya University, and Professor at Tokai University before becoming a Professor at Waseda University in April of 1996. Worked to open the Journalism Course in the Graduate School of Political Science. His works include "Modern Political Thought" (co-edited and co-written, Tokai University Publishing) and "Political Concept in Context: A History Political Thought in Modern England" (co-edited and co-written, Waseda University Publishing, 1999).

Misuzu Tamaru
Free Journalist

Born in 1952. Entered Fuji Television after graduating from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies School of Foreign Studies, Department of English. In 1979, selected as the main caster for a news program and became the first female news caster at Fuji Television. Left Fuji Television in 1983 and has since worked as a free announcer. Currently serves as the main caster for "Hodo Tokushu Next" (TBS Television) and moderator for various election reporting programs. Serves as an instructor for the Journalism Course in the Graduate School of Political Science, conveying to students a voice from the field. Her works include "The Clever Speaking of a Working Woman" (Mikasa-Shobo).