Are Newspapers a Dying Medium?
IT Revolution and Nikkei-related Historical Materials
I wonder how many readers think, as they go through the pages of this magazine, that some day in the not-too-distant future, we might be reading newspapers and magazines only on the small screen, online? I’m talking about some time in the imagined future when we’ll only see newspapers on someone’s doorstep or colorful magazine covers lining the racks of kiosks or bookshops in photos in books. No more people poring over a paper or a mag in a coffee shop . . . everyone peering into tiny hand-held screens as they wait for their turn at the dentist . . .
Let’s not get too eerily futuristic, and please don’t get any wrong notions about the health of this mag, the ever vital and healthy organ of communication that brings together members of our Nikkei/ijusha “community” of sorts. It’s just me fantasizing in print as usual. Having said that, our Bulletin too, has already cloned an electronic sister in the domain of the web, like all smart, practical publications of our age (www.jccabulletin-geppo.ca).
In the big picture, newspapers and some magazines across the US and elsewhere are downsizing their staff because printing information on paper, physically moving it and selling it retail or through delivery is getting just too costly, when more and more people, especially the critical young-to-middle age bracket, now expect to get the information free online. The newspapers advertising revenues are declining rapidly.
US News and World Report the authoritative magazine I used to fish for items for class reports at the school library, recently became an on-line version-only magazine. Some analysts are saying how even veritable journalistic institutions like the Washington Post and even NY Times may eventually wind up as on-line-only papers in the not-too-distant future. Another leading daily, the LA Times cut its news staff of 750 by 10% back in October. Less than a decade ago, its news staff numbered some 1,200.
The decline of newspapers is, not surprisingly, a global phenomenon. When I was visiting Tokyo back in March, a cousin with the Kyodo News Service news agency complained to me that he got “really ticked off” every time he heard people say “I read on the Yahoo news page that . . . ” and this was happening more often these days. Like its bigger counterparts such as Associated Press (AP) of the US, Reuters of Britain and Agence France Press (AFP) of France, Kyodo has been “making a living” selling international and major national news to local newspapers and radio stations for over 50 years. But nowadays, people expect to get news for free like most things on the “net.” My personal experiences over the last decade or so tend to confirm media reports that Japanese university students don’t read real newspapers any more, here in Vancouver or in Tokyo.
From Singapore, a long-time Japanese friend E-mailed to tell me that Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s major national dailies which used to print a satellite-transmitted “International Edition” there for distribution in SE Asian capitals, closed down that operation recently after demand evaporated.
For an old-timer who started out back in the 1960s tapping out news stories on beat-up office typewriters (the completed sheets then being handed to teletype operators to key into a teleprinter network for transmission), the ability to “surf the net” still feels too good to be true. Wherever my news junkies’ fancy takes me, I can go through the websites of major newspapers anywhere in the world almost instantaneously, hopping from, say, Tokyo to Honolulu to L.A. to New York to Jerusalem to Rome to Paris to London to Singapore to Bangkok to Helsinki to Toronto to . . . you get the idea. Not only do I get news items and opinion pieces, many items come with scores of comments e-mailed in by readers.
I remember when libraries used to keep old materials on micro-film. We could, for example, read pages of old newspapers and periodicals on micro-film viewed through a magnifying glass. This medium apparently saved huge amounts of space, but even as libraries around the world were in the process, I presume, of laboriously micro-filming stacks of old records, the IT revolution hit us, so today we have access to websites carrying scanned archival materials. So fewer visits to the library. For an ageing music buff, the situation is akin to having “some of my favourite stuff on records, some on tape and some in CDs and some I get from the I-Pod.” In the English-language domain, as with other languages, there is this humongous mish-mash of old and new media from old books to websites, with some of the latter replicating information in the former.
Somewhere within all that mish-mash are bits and pieces that concern our Nikkei/ijusha community, including valuable nuggets of historical information from the early days through WWII and interment to the redress movement to the recent past, some of it meshing inextricably with materials in Japanese language, which is part of another whole huge language domain.
According to some researchers of pre-war topics such as the history of the famed Asahi baseball club, copies of many of the Japanese-language newspapers that were in publication before World War II have either been destroyed or remain to be “unearthed.” I happen to be translating at the moment a fascinating Meiji era document, which was found by a dedicated researcher at a Nikkei archive centre in San Francsco’s Japan Town.
Incidentally, the Vancouver Japanese Language School on Alexander Street has an amazing collection of thousands of books donated by Nikkei and ijusha families over the decades. Several years ago, I found between the pages of a book I was leafing through at that library, a postcard sent by a Nikkei or Japanese businessman in San Francisco to a friend in Vancouver. The card, post-marked around 1950, was in pristine condition, so the receiver might have put it between the pages soon after he got it.
“The medium is the message” is one of the famous expressions by Canada’s own Marshall McLuhan, the famous educator and philosopher, back in the 1960s. Nevertheless, one comes across things like a text or photograph originating in an old book, which is reproduced in another print medium publication, to be reproduced yet again on an on-line website electronic medium.
Whether in the English-language domain or Japanese, historical information can be unearthed if a really interested researcher patiently pursues it all the way back to some old volume in an antiquary or an old newspaper in someone’s attic, while historical information no one is interested in must eventually get lost. I hope the readers will hang on to old issues of this magazine and even look them over once in a while much later. Too much to ask?