Mr. Takamitsu Kumasaka
Sankei Shimbun Representative, President and C.E.O., Sankei Shimbun Co., Ltd.
On October 29th at the board of trustees meeting held at Surugadai Memorial Hall, Chuo University graduate and Representative President Director of Sankei Shimbun, Takamitsu Kumasaka, gave a lecture titled 40 Years in the Newspaper Industry: Behind the Scenes of the Media. Mr. Kumasaka recounted the reasons behind his choice of mass media as a profession, shared inside stories from news scenes, and discussed the current situation and future of newspapers. Let us review the contents of that lecture with some of Mr. Kumasaka's quotes.
Resisting trends of the time and joining the mass media
Takamitsu Kumasaka graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University, 40 years ago. The era happened to be the restless period of Security Pact demonstrations of the 1970s. Students were involved in protests across the university against rising tuition fees. In Mr. Kumasaka's eyes, looking back, those events are reflected more as political movements. He graduated university with hardly any experience of final examinations. "At the time, I questioned whether it was considered fashionable to have a left-wing ideology and whether liberal movements were merely a passing trend."
Many people of the era were overwhelmed, and I may have been resisting movements of so-called populism. My desire to join the ranks of mass media arose also because I was enveloped in thoughts like "Something seems to be off, doesn't it?" in regard to the trends of the time. I thought I would be able to find out what was really happening at the scene of the events. "Now I am part of management, but my heart will always be that of a reporter."
Mr. Kumasaka joined the Sankei Shimbun in the same year that he graduated. He was soon rushing about Nagata-cho as a political reporter and was even active in Washington as a special correspondent. Now he holds the reins of company management as president, but it appears that his experiences from the Security Pact demonstrations of the 70s haven't changed as his starting point in newspaper work.
Don't be fooled by Narichu copies
"You're a reporter so you probably know everything," was a myth, Mr. Kumasaka confides. Although a newspaper company has reporters covering various fields, there are times when, as a last resort, they have to write about news outside of their fields. That is where articles finish with "developments are being monitored", known as narichu copies, come into play.
For example, when a major incident occurs, even if the reporter in charge of that field happens to be absent, the copy desk (veteran reporters who decide on the makeup of the newspaper), must prepare an article for the event. In such cases, the copy desk would ask a reporter from outside the relevant field, "Can you write me up a narichu copy?"
There are various versions of narichu, and in unexpected situations where the outcome cannot be foreseen, the expression "the situation had unexpected developments," is always included in the article. When it seems that the situation will take a long time to be solved, we add "It is an unpredictable state of affairs," and "this will have great repercussions" will be used when the problem may affect many quarters. Reporters who don't know the whole story, who must essentially pen articles with only background on the news and analysis, call such articles that are written with a cold sweat and filled with such clich辿s narichu stories. Mr. Kumasaka adds with a laugh, "By adding that 'public interest in this issue is continuing to rise, whether you like it or not,' well, you can produce quite a good story."
The same goes for television. A useful expression for reporters having to rush suddenly to a live scene is, "I am at the scene of the incident. The situation is unpredictable and there is no telling as to what will happen. There will be major repercussions with high interest. We will continue to monitor developments." Certainly, these are phrases we have heard before.
What Mr. Kumasaka emphasizes here is that "When newspapers and television are using these conventional phrases, it is necessary to doubt the reporting, thinking 'something is strange with this.'" The phrase Narichu story is an expression reporters now use with self-reproach, but the message to "become clever viewers (readers)" that is sent out from inside the mass media is very convincing and absorbing.
"There are many types of media, and from the abundance of news reports, I definitely want you to ascertain what is reliable, and what the truth is."
The struggling newspaper industry
There are some people who call the newspaper industry a fading industry. Newspaper companies are continually going bankrupt in Europe and the United States. When Mr. Kumasaka became president he was told by a respected colleague, "You're brave to become president in the hardest time since Gutenberg invented type."
It is true that newspaper companies are currently being exposed to harsh times. Mr. Kumasaka says there are three reasons for this. The first is the decreasing number of newspapers being printed. The second is the decline in income from advertising. And the third involves structural problems in the newspaper industry. The declining number of newspapers and advertising is easy to understand, but what are the structural problems?
In the manufacturing industry it is possible to set up a factory overseas; however, due to the nature of business in power, rail and newspaper industries, there are barriers to entering foreign markets. In the case of newspapers, printing factories, which require capital, are necessary, and it is difficult to streamline newspaper delivery systems. This kind of business structure is causing problems for newspaper management.
However, Mr. Kumasaka stresses that "newspaper companies still have a path to survival." He says that the Sankei Shimbun is aiming to be a newspaper company that can adapt, not to be a big-gun advocacy that fervently pursues the scale of the company. He doesn't assume the fixed ideas of a newspaper company and takes the stance that "if there is something you can do, and something that is profitable, shouldn't you do it?"
One example of that is the diversity in publication mediums. A newspaper company will generally only publish one type of newspaper, but in addition to Sankei Shimbun, the Sankei Shimbun publishes the sports paper Sankei Sports, the tabloids Evening Fuji and Fuji Sankei Business Eye, and aimed at young people in the age of the internet, SANKEI EXPRESS, a newspaper full of photos and short articles written in horizontal style. Compared to other newspaper companies, they are unmatched in terms of number of publication mediums.
Going out to collect materials is unchanged for reporters
Even so, behind Mr. Kumasaka's confidence that newspapers will survive, even in the age of the internet, is the fact that, in the end, if people don't move, news won't flow. There are young people who say, "We don't need newspapers in the age of the Internet," but who makes the news on the Internet? Computers don't put people's words together and finish them in the form of an article. Only journalists can write the news. Even if there is no confirmation that an interview will be given, reporters will spare no effort and go to the scene, and the exclusive news that they write is read by many people in newspapers and on the Internet. It is the analog work of humans that supports digital technology.
When writing interview articles, there are some cases where a reporter will resort to questioning via email when he or she has no time. However, veteran reporters can easily tell if it is an email interview. Mr. Kumasaka says, "When an interviewee's face color changes at a question, or has a slight flinching of cheek muscles, the interview articles that are written by reporters who gamble by changing the next question after seeing those reactions," produce final manuscripts that actually close in on the true essence.
"So I repeatedly tell this to employees. 'We are dealing with a technology revolution at the leading-edge of digitalization, but an accumulation of thorough analog effort is required at the base of that.' I convey, over and over, the importance of reporters and management, or salespeople, going to the scene of an event, or to clients themselves, and building relationships by meeting in person."
Mr. Kumasaka, while speaking with passion at times, ended his lecture in just over an hour.
"What will happen to the newspaper industry in the future? I would like to end by saying, 'developments are being monitored.' Thank you."
The audience unexpectedly broke into smiles and filled the venue with applause. The lecture was reassuring enough to push aside concerns about the future of newspapers and was extremely interesting. I would also like to conclude this article by saying, "This lecture will have great repercussions for the audience, raising their interest in the newspaper industry even further."