Journalist, Kyodo News and former Reuters Institute Journalist Fellow
The Japanese media market is characterised by strong, high-circulation newspapers and by five national television networks, including licence fee-funded public broadcaster NHK. Online news is dominated by Yahoo!, which mainly aggregates other news sources but has started to produce more original content.
Japanese newspapers still sell over 40m copies each day, among the highest rates in the world, with around 0.75 copies per household. The largest print circulation remains the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun’s 8.56m, followed by 6.26m for the liberal Asahi Shimbun, but total circulation continues to fall by around 1m a year.1
Japanese newspapers’ digital shift is led by the economic daily Nikkei (Nihon Keizai Shimbun, or Japan Economic Daily), which purchased the Financial Times in 2015. For its growing 558,900 digital subscribers, the Nikkei recently changed its policy to publish exclusive stories online first. ‘Evening Scoops’ are now regularly sent to digital devices at 6pm every day, instead of in the small hours. This is a clear shift in strategy towards prioritising the interests of online readers.
Asahi Shimbun operates a metered paywall and has also been investing in new brands: Withnews is a youth-orientated website that aims to provide a different range of stories, a more visual style, and greater interaction with reporters. WebRonza provides expert articles by academics, analysts, business executives, and Asahi’s veteran journalists. Huffpost Japan is also affiliated with Asahi.
Another big national daily, Mainichi Shimbun, has launched an ‘integrated digital reporting centre’ focusing on digital-first publishing. Yomiuri keeps its print edition bundled with online subscription packages, one factor that may have helped the paper keep its headline 8m circulation.
It is striking that while NHK and Nikkei are the two news brands with the highest trust levels in our survey, Asahi was the lowest of five major dailies including the very conservative Sankei Shimbun. In recent years, the liberal broadsheet has been criticised by politicians from both the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party and right-leaning media. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wrote on Facebook about Asahi’s reaction to an alleged error: ‘It’s pitiful. A miserable excuse just like Asahi. It’s all expected.’ On a different occasion, another conservative Diet member, Yasushi Adachi, tweeted: ‘Asahi, you shall die’, while right-leaning magazines publish headlines like ‘We have to shut down Asahi’. Further analysis shows that Asahi’s weaker trust is partly a result of high levels of distrust from these vocal and partisan critics on the right. After this year’s survey was conducted, Asahi published a series of exposés which rocked the government and slashed Prime Minister Abe’s approval rating. The impact is not reflected in this year’s survey.
Fact-checking arrived in Japan in 2017. A coalition of digital start-ups and media analysts, FactCheck Initiative Japan (FCJ), launched a project to verify assertions in the general election campaign in October. It is unusual in that it uses experts and citizens to check both politicians’ remarks and media stories. The coalition has both liberal and conservative outlets on board. FCJ, funded by public donation, is run by journalists and academics.
Japan’s top online news source, Yahoo! Japan, is increasing its original news content, alongside its news aggregation platform. Masayuki Takada, an investigative reporter-turned-academic, joined as advisory editor. It has been publishing stories about autism, has covered schools for ethnic minorities, and reported on bullying against a government employee with a developmental disorder. Meanwhile, online financial news service NewsPicks announced that it has 60,000 paying subscribers. A free aggregation app, SmartNews, has been downloaded 25m times, while the messaging service Line, which is dominant in Japan with 73m monthly active users, provides news stories through mobile phones.
Uniquely across all the countries in this report, Facebook (22%) in Japan is only the fourth most popular social network, behind YouTube (51%), Twitter (27%), and Line (27%). In terms of news, Japanese also prefer Twitter (12%) to Facebook (9%), partly because they often feel uncomfortable with using real names online. Local video-sharing site Niconico is also gaining popularity (+3) partly because it allows user comments to be overlaid directly on videos, creating a sense of a shared experience.
News consumption is down across the board this year, with TV worst affected. Weekly reach for TV news has fallen by 4 points since 2013 while readers of print newspapers have dropped 26 points to 37%.
Japanese have traditionally had high trust in authority and mainstream news media, but a series of high-profile mistakes and malpractice by news media have affected general trust in recent years (43%). Television brands and local newspapers tend to be most trusted while tabloid-style weekly magazines (e.g. Weekly Bunshun) are least trusted, despite a strong track record in exposing scandals.