Japan’s media environment and SNS


Newspapers still a vital information source:

A recent survey by a leading media research firm has revealed, “Nearly 90 percent of the public believes newspapers will continue to be necessary in the future for obtaining information and acquiring knowledge.” At a rate of 79 percent, they said newspapers provide information that is necessary and useful for daily life, since they expect for information to be reported accurately and impartially. Seventy-seven percent of readers said reporting is generally trustworthy. Daily newspapers are printed seven days a week with most of them issuing morning and evening editions.

The power of newspapers still stays an important factor, even in this age of multiple online sources. Throughout Japan, newspapers are widely available at newspaper stands, train station kiosks, and libraries. Everyplace from coffee shops to waiting lounges at barber shops, banks and hospitals offers newspapers for readers to peruse. Most importantly, subscribers to newspapers, national and local, get them neatly delivered to homes and offices every day, rain or shine.

A massive number of newspaper circulations, in fact, evidently tell how highly newspapers are regarded as credible information source in Japan.

Massive print circulation numbers:

As a matter of fact, national coverage is popularly sought after, since it could reach tens of millions of people quickly, although it’s extremely tough and competitive to get placement therein. The largest national daily, The Yomiuri Shimbun, has a circulation of over 9 million (morning edition alone), and the second largest The Asahi Shimbun over 6 million. The business daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei), circulates nearly 3 million across the country. The five national dailies as a whole add up to a total daily circulation of over 23 million. In addition, each daily offers online news portal as well as e-papers, whose subscribers are not counted in the above circulation figures.

In comparison, major international newspapers look dwarfed in the number of circulations. One of the world’s most influential and prestigious dailies, The New York Times issued over 1.3 million copies per day (2014) with its International New York Times now circulated 220,000 worldwide. The Wall Street Journal had a worldwide weekday circulation of over 1.4 million (2015) with its Asia Edition of some 61,000 counted. The Financial Times posted a daily circulation (Monday to Saturday) of over 780,000 across print and online in 2015 inclusive of digital subscriptions of 566,000.

Local newspapers and leading news agency, vital for nationwide coverage:

The “national dailies” go nationwide, but a majority of the distribution routes are concentrated in the three largest regions in Japan. For instance, the largest daily Yomiuri Shimbun is distributed over 60 percent in the Tokyo metropolitan area, 25 percent in the Osaka region and about 8 percent in the Fukuoka metropolitan area. Only a meager number of the rest, less than 7 percent, is disseminated in cities outside of those densely populated regions. Other three national dailies also follow similar distribution patterns.

While national newspapers demonstrate formidable influence, but in reality their readership is concentrated in the Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka regions. When a nationwide attention is sought after, regional/local dailies should also be fully taken into account in your media pitching strategies by specifically focusing on local cities in other important parts of the country than the three major regions dominated by the presence of the five national dailies.

From across the country there are 47 prefectures. Every prefecture has independent local newspapers covering local news as well as international and national news that are fed by Kyodo News, Japan’s most trusted, integrated news agency. Suffice to say many households subscribe to their local newspapers.

Suppose you’ve made your story in the largest daily Yomiuri Shimbun. It would catch the notice of over 8.5 million readers in the three largely-populated regions. However, when it comes to Hokkaido, the most northern prefecture that hosted the Sapporo 1972 Winter Olympic Games, the newspaper circulates only 209,000 a day. On the other hand, the Sapporo-based regional daily Hokkaido Shimbun is circulated to over one million of local residents, roughly five times over the Yomiuri’s share in the prefecture. Evidently, stories worthy of a nationwide notice should better be placed in regional/local dailies as well. As a matter of course, every regional/local press has an online news site.

Specialty journals:

There are tens of hundreds of business-specific dailies and trade journals on every core industrial sector as well as hundreds of magazines, weekly and monthly, dealing with medical and scientific areas, lifestyle, and general interest for men and women to name but a few.

As long as you are poised to discuss your insightful messages with professionals and experts relevant to your sector, it is imperative to pitch related specialized dailies, trades and magazines, since those specialty media are designed to grab their attention and satisfy their intellectual appetites. There are many first-tier industrial and trade publications concerned with every core sector. Journalists of those specialty media are well informed in their related fields and appreciate in-person interviews for in-depth information, often resulting in good placement immediately after both in print and online.

TV and radio networks:

Besides the NHK, an equivalent of UK’s BBC or USA’s PBS, there are five national commercial TV networks with each key station based in Tokyo, feeding news and other contents throughout the country. Four of them have some 30 affiliated local TV stations each, and one network has six local TV stations. When your messages could present fresh news pegs deserving network broadcasting, pitching TV networks should definitely be attempted. Before making a decision on assigning a TV crew at our request, directors and other key staffs involving with the planning and production of news and other programs ought to be absolutely convinced of newsworthiness from the perspective of audiences at large across the country. Equally important is whether the subject matter should provide fine visual expression. Even when a crew is present to shoot video footage at a given location, a disappointing consequence could happen on occasions. It is likely that the segment in question is often missed from the final airing due to less priority over other news topics that are filed for the same broadcasting segment. TV placement is quite tough and demanding, possibly far more than hitting the national dailies.

The NHK offers the only AM/FM national radio network reaching every corner throughout the country, needless to say of remote islands and villages. All others, over 90 FM/AM stations, are serving audiences by prefecture. There are also numerous community-based FM stations focusing on local news and topics.

Social media as primary news sources – shifting popularity & influence:

Facebook, Twitter, Line and Instagram are popular social media (SNS) as easy communications tools to win friends online and influence people. As a primary news source, however, social media is not considered as much reliable as conventional media, according to a latest survey which asked the respondents to select three choices for their most frequently used news sources1). The largest number of 68% relies on general daily newspapers, followed by 67% using commercial TV networks, 59% the NHK (public TV), and 37% portal sites (Google, Yahoo and newspapers’ news sites). Only 9% responded accessing social media such as Twitter and Facebook, much less than 15% relying on radio.

By age, younger generations tend to use Blog and SNS more often than newspapers, but still they prefer portal sites and TVs as reliable news sources. Another survey2) that looks into those factors by age has found: Blog and SNS usage is mostly favored by the 20s and 30s with 33% and 20.9%, respectively. But even those two age groups prefer portal news sites as their primary news source 60% and 68.8%, respectively, followed by TVs (44% and 54.7%). Among the respondents in their 20s, 30% says they read newspapers, less than Blog and SNS usage, but 37.8% of the respondents in their 30s refer to newspapers, more than blog and SNS, with 16.5% referring to e-papers, which are almost negligible for the 20s. For the age groups of the 40s and beyond, the role of blog and SNS almost disappears in the survey response.

The reference to newspapers, e-papers and portal sites rises as the generation gets older. Among the 40s, 71.1% – larger than any other age group – favors portal news sites, followed by TVs 64%, newspapers 54.8%, e-papers 19.3% and radios 16.6%. Reaching the 50s and beyond, newspapers, portal news sites and e-papers become more important. Among the 50s-70s age groups, TVs are dominantly favored (70.6%-88.5%), followed by newspapers (66%-88.5%), portal sites (61%-67.3%), and e-papers (26.6%-28.5%). Besides, 23.4%-27.3% of the 50s and 60s listen to radios. 18% of the 70s tends to read magazines, rather than enjoying radios.

Also, it’s noteworthy to see which information source is most influential in actually making decision and taking action as Kezai Koho Center reported lately.3) Over 40% of the respondents say, they are “affected strongly or somewhat by newspapers,” with 30% picking TVs. 10% of the 29 years old and younger are most influenced by social media. Among the entire age groups, only 9% shared the same response to SNS’s influence. Generally speaking, social media is regarded as the information sources least affecting thoughts and actions.

Social media is instrumental in addressing specific audience groups like younger generations and specific topics those young age groups tend to jump at. Rules of thumb evidently tell, however, that even if your main targets are SNS-leaning young people, it is essential to see to it that other conventional media will convey your messages as credible, accurate and impartial information sources.

Major portal news sites like Google and Yahoo are usually syndicated with leading daily newspapers and wire news services, with which we are staying in touch to see important messages of our clients being carried in those key media popularly accessed by all the age groups.

1) The Yomiuri Shimbun, October 11, 2015, pp. 2 & 10
2) The Senden Kaigi, June 2016, p. 128
3) Report on Information Sources by Japan Institute for Social and Economic Affairs (Keizai Koho Center), October 2015, pp. 28-29

Media mix for optimum media penetration:

In working out practical media outreach strategies, we will always come up with a right media mix that should lead to causing a maximum impact to targeted audience. Appropriate specific media will be identified and strategically pitched in consideration of the nature of subject matters, targeted audience, targeted age groups, a gender, and business sectors concerned. It’s also important to get senior corporate spokespersons available for meeting with key media people in a timely fashion for the purpose of producing successful achievements through the execution of the communications program.

With information sources becoming more diverse and available in real time, PR and communications management is increasingly becoming a strategic driver of business success. It is estimated that some executives in the US and Europe spend some 60 to 70 percent of their time on corporate PR activities. Likewise, we expect them to contribute their time to meet with our select key media representatives as much the situation permits.

Multiple stakeholders, reflecting changes in the fabric of Japanese society, bring a diversity of new challenges and opportunities for any international client. In recognition of this we also need to team up with other key communications and marketing colleagues who are involved in global communications operations for the client.

Press club system:

Last but not least important, controversial press club system peculiar to Japan needs to be explained. To tell the long story short, we can always pitch any media of our interest directly without bothering any press clubs in delivering our messages to the press individually or in a mass such as a round table session and press conference. There is also a merit to go through a press club in some cases. Or we could make the best of both the advantages of press clubs and our own approaches to media of our choice.

In fact, there are some 90 press clubs mainly clustered in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Kyoto and Kobe. Tokyo alone monopolizes 26 government ministries’ press clubs such as those of Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and Defense Ministry. Also by industrial sector 18 press clubs are organized in Tokyo such as those of automotive, energy and finance. Press clubs are mostly exclusive and only member media have the privilege to have access to official press announcements at each press club.