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Online papers challenge Japan's mainstream media

Citizen journalists, who write articles voluntarily, say they are challenging major news outlets' 'information cartel.'

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New media: Ken Takeuchi runs an online 'alternative' newspaper.

Takehiko Kambayashi

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It used to be that in Japan, to get the story, journalists had to belong to a press club, where they enjoyed a cozy relationship with their sources. And to join a press club, they had to write for one of Japan's major media outlets.

But in recent years, thousands of "citizen journalists" – from students to housewives to lawyers – began adding their stories to the news cycle. Though dismissed by some as amateurs, they say they are providing an alternative to the "information cartel" of the mainstream media, government, and big business.

"Major news organizations have completely bowed to pressure from politicians and large corporations," says Yasushi Kawasaki, who used to cover the prime minister's office for NHK, Japan's public broadcaster and is now an executive board member of Sugiyama Women's University in Nagoya. "Those who work for the major media are no longer considered to be journalists."

Five newspapers dominate the market in Japan, a country that boasts one of the highest rates of newspaper consumers, at 630.9 daily sales per thousand adults. Still, some citizen journalism groups have gained an audience in recent years.

"We want to be Japan's leading media in another five years," says Ken Takeuchi, president of Japan Internet News, of his online newspaper JanJan (Japan Alternative News for Justice And New Culture). As the Web-based daily, which is owned by the system integration company Fujisoft, celebrates its fifth year, its pool of citizen journalists has grown to 5,000.

Unlike the male-dominated and hierarchical mainstream media, citizen reporters are a diverse group: retirees, homemakers, non-Japanese residents, and college students. Most write for free.

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