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``So you want to be a writer, darling'' A Guide for Aspiring Freelancers in Japan

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  • 1. EXTRA!EXTRA! REPORTING OPPORTUNITIES IN JAPAN: A Practical Guide By Eric Johnston Deputy Editor The Japan Times Osaka bureau Japan Writers Conference October 18th , 2009
  • 2. This presentation assumes. . .This presentation assumes. . .  You have an interest in straight reporting and writing news features on a wide variety of timely events, as opposed to writing a personal opinion column, doing book, music, art, or restaurant reviews, or writing up interview pieces.  You have a love of, and preference for, traditional print and broadcast media and appreciate the traditional editorial methods
  • 3. THE BASICSTHE BASICS Getting Started: What All Successful FreelanceGetting Started: What All Successful Freelance News Reporters in Japan Usually HaveNews Reporters in Japan Usually Have  1) Bilingual business cards  2) A Web page with their articles  3) A bilingual PC.  4) A cell phone capable of international calls
  • 4. THE BASICSTHE BASICS Getting Started: What All Successful FreelanceGetting Started: What All Successful Freelance News Reporters in Japan Usually HaveNews Reporters in Japan Usually Have  5) Easy access to a host of basic facts and figures about Japan, including major on-line daily news stories.  6) A decent digital camera  7) Receipt books and notebooks for accounting purposes  8) A local Japanese person who serves as your ``fixer’’, either paid or volunteer
  • 5. PART IPART I MAKING CONTACT WITH JAPAN-BASED NEWS MEDIA
  • 6. The Negotiation PhaseThe Negotiation Phase  Length of stories –400 and 800 words on average, for a news piece and up to 2,000 words for a magazine-style piece.  Rates: between 10,000 and 100,000 yen, depending on publication, with payment in the 20,000-50,000 yen range the norm for newspapers.  Expenses: varies.  Photos: Sometimes extra payment, sometimes not.
  • 7. Sealing the DealSealing the Deal  Japan’s English-language media rarely, if ever, offer written contracts. Promises are verbal.  THE THREE BASIC QUESTIONS:
  • 8. Sealing the DealSealing the Deal  1) In addition to the basic rate for the article, are travel and communication expenses covered?  2) What’s the rate for photos and is that rate per published photo?  3) Will the article by translated into Japanese?
  • 9. Japan ExtrasJapan Extras  Make sure you have a list of all of your major Japanese sources and contacts –especially editorial contacts -- and send them New Year’s Greeting Cards. Mid-summer greetings (a postcard) should also be sent to high-level sources who are older.  If you can get an overseas publication to sponsor you, apply for a Foreign Ministry press card. It opens official doors that may otherwise remain closed.
  • 10. Japan ExtrasJapan Extras  Make sure you’re on the Tokyo Foreign Press Center’s mailing list for important announcements and all sorts of other stuff.
  • 11. Japan ExtrasJapan Extras  IDENTIFYING YOURSELF IN JAPANESE:  記者: Kisha: The literal translation is ``reporter’’, but the nuance is that you’re a full-time news reporter for a mainstream corporate media organization.  特派員: Correspondent: Implies an ongoing, formal, full-time professional relationship with one media organization where you right about or broadcast both news and feature-type stories.
  • 12. Japan ExtrasJapan Extras  フリージャーナリスト: The equivalent of a freelance journalist, it implies you’re writing or broadcasting for different media, on assignment.  ジャーナリスト: Slightly more scholarly in nuance, implies you may be something of an expert in one subject or another, and have, perhaps, written books on that very subject.
  • 13. IN GENERAL, EDITORS AT JAPAN’S ENGLISHIN GENERAL, EDITORS AT JAPAN’S ENGLISH LANGUAGE NEWS MEDIA EXPECT THELANGUAGE NEWS MEDIA EXPECT THE FOLLOWING FROM FREELANCERSFOLLOWING FROM FREELANCERS  A good grounding in whatever subject they are writing about, but an outsider’s perspective, not an activist’s perspective.  An ability to take tired, clichéd Japan subjects and make them interesting  An ability to work alone with little direction  An ability to turn last-minute, confused, contradictory requests from the editors into a well written and well-researched piece that lands on the editor’s desk on deadline and not one-minute afterwards  An acceptance that the editor, not the freelancer, has the final say on how the piece turns out.  An ability to communicate on a regular basis what the freelancer is doing, who else he or she is writing for, and a willingness to be honest and open about possible conflicts of interest, either financial or otherwise  An ability to roll with the punches if and when ``cultural differences’’ arise between you and whatever Japanese editor or editors reviews the piece.
  • 14. PART IIPART II MAKING CONTACT WITH OVERSEAS MEDIA
  • 15. FIRST, THE BAD NEWS. . .FIRST, THE BAD NEWS. . .  The amount of general interest in Japan among overseas media is the lowest it’s been in decades.  There is a surplus of experienced, talented freelance news reporters who are fighting for ever-fewer jobs.  Those ever-fewer jobs pay less than in the past.
  • 16. Now, the Good News. . .Now, the Good News. . .  Shrinking newsroom budgets worldwide mean that editors are always looking for ways to cut costs, which gives freelancers in Japan an edge.
  • 17. Now, the Good News. . .Now, the Good News. . .  While Japan is declining in importance to overseas media, Asia is still important to most Editors. Successful Japan-based freelance reporters travel as far west as Afghanistan and as far south as Indonesia, and are often in Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, or Seoul.
  • 18. TWO COMMON WAYS FREELANCERS IN JAPAN CAN FIND JOBS: 1) Keep an Eye Out for International Conferences in Japan or 2) Keep an Eye Out for Visits by VIPs. 3) Research which foreign media might be interested in that conference or visit, and send each of them a letter of introduction and a story pitch.
  • 19. EXAMPLES:EXAMPLES: YOU LEARN THAT THE GOVERNOR OF THE U.S. STATE OF NEBRASKA IS VISITING JAPAN  Response: Contact the major newspapers in Nebraska, offer to write stories with angles that will not be covered by the wire services. Contact magazines, trade magazines, or newsletters devoted to beef or agricultural issues, offer a feature on the state of Japanese beef or agriculture and how it compares with Nebraska, using the governor’s remarks as a lead-in
  • 20. EXAMPLESEXAMPLES YOU LEARN THAT A LARGE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON BIOTECH IS TAKING PLACE  Response: Contact the Health and Science Editors of Newspapers you think might be interested in the issue, as well as magazines and specialty publications that deal with biotech. Explain the content of the conference and ask if they’re interested in either daily reports or a general feature.
  • 21. GENERAL DO’S AND DON’TS FORGENERAL DO’S AND DON’TS FOR BOTH LOCALAND OVERSEAS MEDIABOTH LOCALAND OVERSEAS MEDIA DON’T:DON’T: Submit Story Ideas to Local Media in Parituclar Without Knowledge of What They Have Written on That Subject: The first question I always ask a potential freelancer is, when was the last time my paper ran an article related, directly or indirectly, to that particular subject. If they can’t answer, I hang up.  Automatically Believe That You Have A Unique Experience Worth Writing About: ``Hey, I’m an English teacher in Japan and I’ve got some great stories about. . .Hello? Hello?’’
  • 22. DON’T:DON’T:  Assume That You Understand Japan Simply Because You Read Overseas Media: Very often, the Japan-based English language media see the Japan quite differently (read: deeper and more realistically) than the overseas media you grew up with. Newbies who pitch story ideas that an editor who has been in country more than six months knows are clichéd or superficial may wait in vain for an answer.  Pretend You’re a Japan Hand if You’re Not: Editors can quickly tell if you can walk the walk as well talk the talk. The good news? A lot of editors here are just as ignorant of Japan as you are, or simply don’t care. Or, they value your ability to B.S. and tell a good story over your knowledge and experience in-country.
  • 23. DON’T:DON’T:  Remain Unable To Explain The Japan You Do Know: Whether you’re a budding Japan Hand with diverse intellectual interests, or an internationally recognized academic expert in one field, the ability to explain your topic in an interesting, concise manner for a mass audience is crucial.  Fail to Understand That, The Longer You Are Here, The Better Your Instincts About Japan Are Supposed To Be: Japan offers foreigners in general the opportunity to remain outsiders. This is a double-edged sword. If you’ve been here for years, have poor language skills, and don’t have a lot of general knowledge about Japan, you’ll be looked upon as an amateur. Are you here in Japan, emotionally and intellectually, as well as physically? If not, then what, exactly, are you doing here?
  • 24. DON’T:DON’T:  Ignore Your Reputation: Some writers believe they have to get their name out there to anyone and everyone. But HOW you get your name out and WHAT kind of content your byline stands over marks your reputation. SO, BE VERY CAREFUL WHAT YOU PUT YOUR NAME TO.
  • 25. SO, WHAT SHOULD YOUSO, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?DO?  Write The Odd Freebie: Some writers believe that, once they’re established in Japan, they don’t need to give anything away for free in order to succeed further. Wrong. You are writing for a very small community and opportunities from the editors in that community and elsewhere who pay often come only after you’ve shown you have an altruistic side .  Keep Editors Posted on the Status of Your Submissions: Let’s say that you’re shopping a piece to several different outlets with the thought you’ll go with the first one that says yes. Once you get that ``yes’’, you need ask the publication that said ``yes’’ if they have exclusive rights to your piece, or if it’s OK if the piece appears elsewhere. If they have exclusive rights, you need to immediately notify everyone else you sent the piece to that such rights have just been purchased.
  • 26. DO:DO:  Make Sure All of Your Correspondence With the Editors is in Writing: Especially on terms of payment, and on issues like rewrites, photos, travel expenses, etc.  Visit The Editorial Offices Once In A While, Just To Say Hello: In the Internet age, it’s too easy to do all your work by computer. Some freelancers see it as a waste of time to simply drop by for a chat. But politically astute, i.e. gainfully employed, writers know it can pay dividends to drop by the office once in a while just to at least say hi and let the editors know that there is a human being behind all of the e- mails. Better yet, take a editor our for a beer, or coffee.
  • 27. DO:DO:  Know when to say ``No.’’  Turning down assignments as a freelancer is quite tough. But saying ``yes’’ to everything, or not taking into consideration your reputation, is to go down the path of the Dark Side. Some writers think that if they do the crap, they’ll get the good stuff later out of sheer loyalty. It doesn’t usually work that way. Those who write about crap usually continue to get assigned crap because nobody else with integrity wants to do those kinds of stories. Sometimes, for your own sanity, and your own reputation, you simply have to say ``No.”
  • 28. DO:DO:  Join An Organization Where You Are Likely To Make Contact With Different Kinds Of People Involved in Local Journalism: Why? So you can learn which publications commission work and give you plenty of time to get the copy in, edit that copy well and after consultation with the writer, and then pay on time the full amount owed for both the article and expenses, and so you can learn which publications commission work at the last minute, rewrite most of it without telling you and add mistakes, and then fail to send you a check or just pay you a fraction of what you agreed to.
  • 29. AND WHAT ABOUT LOCATION? Or DOAND WHAT ABOUT LOCATION? Or DO I NEED TO BE IN TOKYO?I NEED TO BE IN TOKYO? ARGUMENTS FOR BEING BASED IN TOKYO: 1) It’s the capital city where the most important headline news is made and it’s very easy to gather lots of stories of interest to editors. 2) It has a vast, efficient information infrastructure that makes it quite easy to tap into the English sources and find opportunities, a big plus if your Japanese language ability is poor. 3) Travel expenses within Tokyo are minimal.
  • 30. ARGUMENTS AGAINST BEING BASED IN TOKYO 1) Everybody is in Tokyo and the big news is usually covered by the Tokyo-based wire services.
  • 31. 1) Major events of interest to editors now often take place outside of Tokyo, especially here in Kyoto. Tokyo is no longer the center for many conferences where freelancers in Japan often get work. 2) If you’re living outside of Tokyo, you’re lifestyle is probably cheaper, which means you can offer slightly lower rates than Tokyo-based freelancers.
  • 32. Exercise : Covering a conferenceExercise : Covering a conference  Situation: An international conference on fish, chips, and mushy peas is taking place in Stockholm and an NGO has offered to pay your way in exchange for covering it, but they don’t want to give you an NGO badge. Rather, they want you to get a press badge. And they you want to write about the conference not just for their NGO newsletter, but also their blog.  QUESTION:
  • 33. Exercise : Covering a conferenceExercise : Covering a conference  When you approach other media asking about doing stories at the conference, do you:  (a) explain what you’ll be doing for the NGO that is paying your way; or  (b) not say anything because, after all, the NGO has nothing to do with the media you’re approaching, and, besides, what you write for the NGO will be different from what you write for any media
  • 34. CORRECT ANSWERCORRECT ANSWER :  (a) Most editors will not care if they are told, but will be extremely angry if they are not told that your way is being paid by an NGO. Some media companies have in- house rules about how what kinds of payment freelancers can accept, and you’re getting yourself blacklisted if you they hire you and then find out what you’ve done.
  • 35. Next, you approach three media to ask forNext, you approach three media to ask for press credentials:press credentials:  (1) The Tokyo Times, an English-language daily paper available primarily in Japan;  (2) The West Japan Journal –a monthly magazine available primarily in all cities west of Kyoto;  (3) The Alleghany Kiski Valley Star & Ledger – a weekly magazine available only in northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  You get the following replies:  ``We can’t give you press credentials, but pitch us story ideas every day during the conference. If we like any of your ideas, we’ll ask you to write a 600 word feature story for 25,000 yen and pay for the story plus any necessary expenses.’’ –The Tokyo Times  ``We’ll give you press credentials. You need to blog for us, but we can’t pay you for that. You don’t need to file anything for the print edition, though, until after it’s all over and we’ll pay 1,000 yen for 1,000 words,’’ –West Japan Journal  ``We can’t get you press credentials or pay your expenses. But, if you go, we would like a story a day, maximum 400 words, and we’ll pay you 40,000 yen/article,’’ –The Alleghany Kiski Valley Star & Ledger SO WHAT DO YOU DO?
  • 36. Suggested Response:Suggested Response:  Immediately agree to work for the West Japan Journal –they are the only one of the three who will sponsor you for a press badge.
  • 37. Suggested Response:Suggested Response:  During the conference, blog for the Journal and the NGO paying your way. When that’s done, pitch story ideas to the Tokyo Times.  Keep the Star & Ledger updated during the conference with short e-mails. After the other assignments are out of the way, pitch them story ideas. Mention what you’ve done for The Tokyo Times and the Journal.
  • 38. At the Conference. . .At the Conference. . . HOW TO IDENTIFY YOURSELF TO INTERVIEW SUBJECTS AND AT PRESS BRIEFINGS:  As an NGO representative? After all, they are paying for your flight and hotel rooms and you are contributing to their newsletter and blog every day.  As a freelance journalist writing for a variety of publications? After all, your press badge will identify you as being with the West Japan Journal?
  • 39. ANSWERANSWER  This can be tricky. Your most prominent writing is for an NGO but you don’t have an NGO badge. Sometimes it’s easier to get access if you’re with an established NGO rather than being an anonymous ``freelance journalist’’ writing for publications like the West Japan Journal that nobody at the conference has ever heard of.
  • 40. ANSWERANSWER  SUGGESTED RESPONSE: Tell the NGO that sends you you’re going to introduce yourself as ``a freelance journalist writing for a number of overseas publications and NGOs.’’ Get business cards for the conference identifying yourself as a freelance journalist, but with the logos of each of the three media, as well as the NGO, printed beside your name.
  • 41. The Tokyo Times The West Japan JournalThe West Japan Journal The Allegheny Kiski-Valley Star & Ledger, Peace for Peas! (NGO) Eric Johnston Freelance Journalist MY KEIMUSHO Bldg. 2F 8-9-3 Nomachi Osaka, Japan 550-0002 TEL: 81-6-666-6666 FAX:81-6-666-6666 Cell Phone: (0)80-8867-5309 Cell e-mail: ehj2br02b@doconimo.jp E-mail: crazyhack@yahoo.com
  • 42. HOW TO IDENTIFY YOURSELFHOW TO IDENTIFY YOURSELF IN PRINTIN PRINT  Answer: You need to tell each of the three media organizations that you’re on assignment for them and under what conditions, and state your preference for a title. But how they decide to identify you is up to them. By Eric Johnston, Special to The Tokyo Times By Eric Johnston, Special Correspondent By Eric Johnston
  • 43. Odds & SodsOdds & Sods  ON KILL FEES:  Japan’s English-language media, and many overseas media, sometimes pay kill fees but only if they’ve given you an assignment. Check and see.  ON PHOTOS:
  • 44. Odds & SodsOdds & Sods  If you’re a wordsmith, you are also likely expected to be a photographer. Photos are always extra, and the rate depends on the publication. Among Japan’s English-language media 2,000 yen -10,000 yen/photo seems to be the range.  ON VIDEO REPORTS : This is a brave new world, and it’s still fairly rare that print journos who are freelance will asked to file video as well. But check and see
  • 45. In ConclusionIn Conclusion  Making it as a freelance reporter in Japan is not easy, but it’s not impossible. A curiosity about many different subjects, a good general knowledge of Japan, and an ability to navigate the system and deal with all sorts of people here are critical components of success.
  • 46. In ConclusionIn Conclusion  ``Writers are solitary beasts. Reporters are social animals.’’  It is better to position yourself as a ``Japan- based’’ reporter who is willing to cover events outside of Japan, in East, South, or Southeast Asia than as a Japan-hand.