The New News: Mass Media's High-Tech Future in the U.S. & Japan

November 20, 2002

Corporate Luncheon

Sponsored by the Institute for International Socio-Economic Studies

Corporate Programs Leadership Sponsors
Citigroup Inc.
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu
Mizuho Securities USA

Joseph Kessler, President, Global Technology Group, Weber Shandwick
Vincent Park, Senior Vice President, Edge Communications Inc.
Tsuruaki Yukawa, Editorial Writer, Jiji Press

Neil Budde,
Publisher, Wall Street Journal Online

A panel of journalists and cutting-edge public relations professionals discussed the impact of electronic technology on journalism. Panelists included Joseph Kessler, President of the Global Technology Group at Weber Shandwick; Vincent Park, Senior Vice President of Edge Communications Inc.; and Tsuruaki Yukawa, Editorial Writer at Jiji Press. Neil Budde, Publisher of the Wall Street Journal Online, presided over the session.

Neil Budde recalled his first job with the then family-owned Louisville Courier Journal. The owners (who had a love affair with Apple computers) debated delivering the news to subscribers via complimentary Apple computers as an alternative to upgrading their presses. Ultimately they did neither, and the ensuing family squabbles led to the sale of the paper to Gannett. But, when the Wall Street Journal began looking at an online product in 1993, Mr. Budde's eyes were already open to the possibilities of extending the brand to electronic media. The Wall Street Journal originally experimented with proprietary software, but as the commercial usefulness of the Internet became increasingly apparent, the Journal switched and pioneered its subscription-based service over the Internet, said Mr. Budde.

Tsuruaki Yukawa's employer, Jiji Press, is one of two Japanese wire services, the other being Kyoto Press. Both firms used to belong to the same company, Dome Press, but because the press printed stories about Japan's victories during World War II, after the war, Douglas MacArthur split the business in two, "to keep the press from lying," said Mr. Yukawa.

Mr. Yukawa sees some key differences in how Japan and the U.S. use new media. A large percentage of Japan's population (56,340,000 cellphones) uses the Internet, 80 to 90 percent are of college age. In Japan, e-mail is also distributed via cellphone, and special services have been created for cellphones. Mr. Yukawa cited the example of the Asahi Shimbun's Chiezo, which costs a few dollars per month, has 50,000 subscribers and is popular as an instant reference. Japan's young people, who average two to three phones, communicate intensively with each other by instant messaging, said Mr. Yukawa. He cited the work of Keichi Katsura of Tokyo Information University, who has written about the increasingly inward-looking and parochial tendencies of this age group.

Mr. Yukawa also sees similarities, especially in the weblog phenomenon. He recounted how Japan's Channel 2, a de facto standard, recently challenged NHK over the authenticity of a feature story involving a teenage paraplegic. While "a lot of junk" came out of the weblog, there was also some authentic grassroots journalism, he affirmed. For example, some participants posted film footage using streaming video or created home pages from selected material (Mr. Yukawa compared them to editors). A Google search by certain participants (whom Mr. Yukawa likened to reporters) revealed that the mother belonged to a religious cult with commercial objectives. The 10 percent of cellphone users whose cellphones have cameras also create the possibility of grassroots camerawork, Mr. Yukawa noted.

Mr. Yukawa compared the situation between grassroots and establishment journalism to the standoff between Linux and Microsoft: Linux will win whenever Microsoft slacks off. However, grassroots journalism also complements the mainstream as a source of leads and an ombudsman. In short, he concluded, the new media is causing traditional journalists to work harder.

Joseph Kessler observed that public relations has changed more in the last three years than in his 18 years of experience. "The communications industry is here to stay," he declared. New media is transforming communications, as companies are finding new ways to communicate with their key stakeholders and Internet businesses are changing how we look at businesses. "Information technology is not just for techies anymore," he said, noting that 53 percent of Americans, or 143 million people, use the Internet now (compared to 26 percent in 2001) and 98 percent of journalists check e-mail daily.

Mr. Keller said the Internet is an important tool in corporate communications: 60 percent of Internet users say the look of a website affects their opinion of the firm and 77 percent say they can't find the information they need. He listed the most useful features of corporate websites, in order of priority, as contact information (84 percent) and search engines (76 percent), followed by press releases, text files and site map photos.

Mr. Keller also highlighted some recent innovative web campaigns, for example GM/Onstar's creation of an online press room used now by several thousand editors; Kodak's "living meter" to measure the impact of its webpages; General Electric's online posting of an annual report; China Trade World's use of online press conferences; Beijing Municipality's bid for the right to host the Olympic games, in which the city showed itself as Olympic-ready; Best Buy's online tour of its New York electronic store; and Cap Gemini/Ernst and Young's online media training facility.

Vincent Park asked the audience to reflect on rebels and innovators of the late 20th century who continue to reinvent themselves. In communication technology, the "rebel" is rich media, which drives innovation, he said. According to Mr. Park, the traditional linear communication model is becoming a network model, and the distribution channel is evolving from a series of separate devices to a single pipe with many platforms and output devices. "On Demand is all the rage--anytime, anywhere access," Mr. Park observed. He said that these changes are creating incentives to create partnerships and alliances with wireless providers, consumer digital networks and intranets, to expand client business, increase brand visibility and deepen system-wide communication.

The number of messages is increasing. We want to cut through the clutter, but how will that happen when reporting staff sizes are being cut?

Targeting the message enables the information to be diced more finely, said Mr. Kessler. The key issue is refining the understanding of what each segment consumes. One result of finer segmentation is that public relations consultants get to participate in more strategic business decisions.

Mr. Park commented that the media should not be discounted as an important part of distribution, albeit one that has become harder to get to because of e-mail and Internet overload. He added that grassroots messaging should not be discounted.

Now there are more information gateways besides the media, while at the same time, staffs are getting smaller. Is professional journalism doomed?

Mr. Kessler reasoned that sophisticated consumers of information are still capable of discerning objective and sponsored sources. He said that objectivity still matters to the generation in power but noted that public relations work, as defined by engagement with the objective media, has shifted from 95 percent to less than 50 percent of revenue.

Said Mr. Park, "More senior members need to rethink and refresh the roles of journalists, or else journalism is doomed."

Mr. Budde said that at the Wall Street Journal Online, in-depth stories garner the highest number of hits. He inferred from this that, although basic news comes from multiple sources, the public relies on his publication for interpretive journalism.

Does the medium change the content?

Mr. Kessler said that it happens with the emergence of certain infrastructures, for example, Google's pay-for-play service.

Mr. Yukawa pointed to the need for reporters to develop specializations rather than becoming good generalists through rotations.

How do you reach the opinion leaders of semi-professional news outfits who influence decisions, both up and down?

Mr. Park said that, although the tendency is to influence the two extremes--the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times at the top and grass roots opinion at the bottom--it is important also to address the electronic opinion leaders. To forget about the "e-pinions" can be a mistake, he admonished.

Mr. Kessler described monitoring as an incessant discipline, not a static medium. "Opinion leaders are usually either moving down or up, and recognition of their level of influence depends on the ability to instill a strong monitoring discipline."

--Ann Rutledge

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