The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Campus Now > Trend Eye (July)

Campus Now


Trend Eye

Is newspaper a necessary media?

This section is a serialized section from Shunsuke Yamagishi, who is active as an education journalist, about education problems.

When reading the Asahi newspaper, there are a great number of boxed articles dealing with the theme of how much Japanese people have fought against orders and impositions of the American army and opposition forces starting from the middle and continuing after the end of World War II. Even if this type of article wasn't printed in a newspaper, there are many kinds of independent publications containing the same matter. The theme of recent newspapers seems to be "newspapers and war", and the editor Fumio Kawatani is currently continuing to write the running story "Kisha Fuden". Kawatani's writing is well researched and very interesting. However, newspapers exist in the present, and if they are to be the most needed type of media, then aren't there other topics which should be addressed instead?

Reporters and differences due to periods in time

A greater individual difference in ways of thinking is found in newspaper reporters than in other professions. However, it is also impossible to ignore differences due to periods in time. Consider this story which it thought to have taken place a few years before the 1970 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. A young man graduated from the School of Law at Tokyo University and entered Asahi Newspaper. A rumor soon began that the young man had placed first for an administrative post on the Government Employee Senior Level Examination. At the time, newspaper reporters who considered positions as government employees or bank employees were treated with contempt. Another reporter who entered the company at around the same period later regretted his decisions, saying “why didn’t I go to Nikkei Newspaper at that time?” I believe that the young man who graduated from law school wanted to become a newspaper reporter, not a government official. However, perhaps the values prevalent at his school taught that the best course after entering law school was to become a senior level government official. Maybe the young man wanted to show that he was capable of becoming a senior level government official even though he had no interest in such a position. He may have disliked the thought of people assuming he became a newspaper reporter because he couldn’t become a government official. However, there is no way of confirming what he was thinking, because that young man has already reached retirement age and left the company, and other related parties have unfortunately passed away.
Times have changed greatly since then, but even so I was surprised by the change of thinking in reporters evidenced by the publishing of Ko Kawaru Gakko, Ko Kawaru Daigaku (Changes in Schools and Universities) (Kodansha, 2004), a book written by Atsuko Toyama, former Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT). I was disappointed upon recognizing that a portion of this book had obviously twisted the facts to make them more presentable. I asked a government official that I knew how much of the contents of the book could be trusted. He answered that “I wrote the important policy section for universities”, so I decided that the contents were acceptable. However, what surprised me was the method that reporters used when interviewing this government official.

I realize now that critical articles cannot be written until a change is made in how newspaper companies use reporters for 1 or 2 years in the same post, although I suppose it cannot be helped given the methods used by reporters when interviewing. The government official criticized as difficult the conventional system of policies being decided by MEXT and universities exercising autonomy. The official emphasized a “management reform” in universities. Reporters then asked “What exactly is the meaning of incorporation of national universities?” The official answered by speaking about the aims of the 21st Century COE Program and how MEXT would submit to universities themes in research and education. Universities would then create proposals for how to implement those themes and submit the proposals to MEXT. This was the explanation of a system which would control both research and education.

Everything that the reporters were being told was new, so the reporters couldn’t help being satisfied with the explanation of the government official who had created the system. They may even have been excited at learning about the latest government policies. Asahi Newspaper immediately published a commentary asserting that universities needed a change in consciousness towards independence. What surprised me was an article published in IDE, a specialty journal of higher education. The editor who wrote the article offered full support, stating that “Universities may actually change. This is a policy with substantial impact”. Reporters in other newspapers and magazines were writing the same kinds of articles.

Explaining the current policy is fine, but what about understanding of problems that exist in that policy? I asked “How in the world is it possible for government officials and reporters to think in the same way!?” The reply was “I guess we have gone too far”, spoken with a bitter laugh. But it seems that there was no ill will.

The most important education reporting

It is important to accurately detail what the reporters of Asahi Newspaper were doing in the period from before the war was lost until after the war. However, what kind of relationship does this have with the present? As for reporting regarding education, an area which is now the biggest issue, what kind of policy does Asahi Newspaper have for reporting? After making all of this clear, I would like them to write an article explaining how this relates to the history of senior reporters during and after the war.

According to junior reporters, the writing of critical article is opposed by the education desk, which decides the direction of all educational reporting. After reading the newspaper which is published, one can only reach the conclusion that reporters responsible for gathering information are content with simply conveying the current situation. This is extremely obvious if one reads the page covering universities. A newspaper was made which was equivalent to calling out the President of the University of Tokyo and having him jump and dance around flashily. I was astounded when I saw this. A short time later, the University of Tokyo created a humiliating incident unprecedented in its history when question for the graduate school examination were leaked. Surely, the flashy maneuvers of the President bear some relation.

Although I had believed that only the leaders of national universities were presented in the newspaper, President Shirai of Waseda University made an appearance under the title of “a strong president”. The plan until that time was the same, but there would be no sense of discomfort even if an advertisement was inserted at the bottom of the paper. Actually, that would be easier to understand and more refreshing. I wonder what the great senior reporters of the past would think if they knew about this kind of thing. I would like to ask them.

I know that I am asking for a lot. However, upon understanding the actual condition of educational reporting, one would expect reporters in the society department to grapple with those problems. If this was done, then there would be somewhat of a change in reporters who dealt with great senior reporters of the past. But, it might not be able to be done because reporters who are capable of such action are unlikely to consider such a foolish enterprise.

Articles without criticism may sometimes be necessary. However, are readers really happy when all of the small number of reporters act as an advertiser of the government? It depends on for what reason the reader seeks newspaper reporting.

Shunsuke Yamagishi

He graduated from the Niigata University's Faculty of Humanities law course in 1958. After working as a reporter at the Niigata Nippo and Asahi Shimbun, he was a professor at Tama University (education course). After retirement until last year, he was a visiting professor. In 1968, he was an honor student and member of the inaugural class of the Soichi Oya Tokyo Mass-communication Juku. In 1970, he won the Kikuchi Kan Prize for his newspaper serialization of "Ashita no Nihonkai" or "The Sea of Japan of Tomorrow." He is active as an education journalist and has authored many works including Daigaku Kaikaku no Genba-e (Tamagawa University Press).