Investigative reporting

Good morning everyone,

It was so warm yesterday that I rode to and from work in just a vest...and I was still sweating by the time I got to my destination. Today is going to be a bit cooler and it's looking like we can expect some rain in the afternoon and evening. Tomorrow and Tuesday are looking fantastic! Then it's going to rain again on Wednesday and cool back down...by Friday the high will only be 8C!

Shukan Bunshun magazine has been making headlines since late January thanks to a string of major scoops on no fewer than seven topics.

These concerned accusations of financial misconduct by economy minister Akira Amari that led to his resignation (Jan. 28, Feb. 4 and Feb. 11); details of the alleged extramarital affair between TV personality Rebecca Eri Ray Vaughan (known professionally as Becky) and Enon Kawatani, the 27-year-old singer in the band Gesu no Kiwami Otome (Feb. 4); followed by the hullabaloo over the rumored breakup of the five-member music group SMAP, which has been performing for 28 years (Feb. 4).

These were followed by news about the arrest of baseball star Kazuhiro Kiyohara on accusations of possession of illegal stimulants (Feb. 18); the tracking down of the nameless and faceless criminal referred to as “Shonen A,” who as a 14-year-old serial murderer (but now considered rehabilitated) had terrorized the residents of Kobe in 1997 after he left the decapitated head of one of his victims, an 11-year-old, outside the gate of a junior high school (Feb. 25); revelations of Diet member Kensuke Miyazaki’s extramarital affair while on paternity leave (Feb. 25); and “confessions” regarding illegal betting by former Yomiuri Giants ace pitcher Shoki Kasahara (March 3).

Ryutaro Nakamura, himself a former reporter at Shukan Bunshun who now writes a daily column titled “The Record of the Scoop Dog’s Howls” for Nikkan Gendai, on Feb. 23 began a three-part feature on Bunshun’s aggressive new style.

“Recently I think more mass media have taken an overall approach to treating (various) topics as taboo and refrained from reporting on them,” Nakamura wrote disapprovingly.

He recalls how, speaking at a Fuji-Sankei Forum in 2012, editor Shintani noted that Bunshun’s core staff numbered 40, with another group devoted exclusively to the magazine’s glossy front and back sections, making around 60 in total.

“At the editorial meeting held every Thursday, each writer was required to come up with five proposals for potential stories,” Nakamura quoted Shintani as saying. “That means each week there are as many as 200 items from which to take their pick. The editor has the important job of selecting and assigning the stories.”

Based on his own experiences, Nakamura describes heavy pressure and sleepless nights ahead of the deadline. And that was only the beginning. As the circumstances changed, fast-breaking stories became a moving target. “Right up to the deadline we didn’t know what would happen. Contradictory data would also pop up,” he recalled.

Even Aera (March 7), a weekly published by Bungeishunju Ltd.’s arch-enemy, the Asahi Shimbun, has offered grudging praise of Bunshun’s consistent investigative coverage.

“Bunshun is often asked how it pulls off its scoops,” Aera wrote. “The answer is simple: Scoops are what it aims for from the get-go. Once it gets a clue to information, reporters are assigned to go deep and piece together the evidence. And if things come to loggerheads, it sends in its shock troops and the story is completed in one onslaught.”

Under the title “Dave Spector’s Tokyo Saiban” (a reference to the Tokyo Tribunal held after World War II), DaveSpector produced 172 columns for Bunshun from Feb. 1989 to Oct. 1992. So, he's definitely got some inside knowledge on how the magazine works.

“The magazine publishers typically distribute preview copies to TV stations and other media one day before they go on sale, so any damaging stuff gets leaked and the stories’ targets often head off trouble by taking action quickly,” Spector said, pointing out that the prospect of a so-called daini-dan (“second shot” or follow-up) of a scoop “is even more likely to have the targets shaking in their boots.”

“If the subject holds a press conference, that counts for a big notch in the Bunshun’s belt,” he said. “And the subjects will typically fret over whether or not to wait for the follow-up or even a third shot before talking to the media.”

For now, at least, few would dispute that Bunshun — with an audited circulation of 420,000, the highest of Japan’s weeklies — is on a roll.

What might the implications be, I asked Spector, if Bunshun’s aggressive reporting moves it even further ahead of the pack?

“Because of the juicy stories, what’s happening now is that people with information or leaks are thinking, ‘Well Bunshun is the place to go!'” Spector said. “So it’s becoming the only saloon in town. In other words, Bunshun is reaping the benefits of those scoops to obtain newer stories as it has emerged as the magazine that writers prefer to take their proposals more than anyplace else.”

Personally, I'd like to see newspapers/magazines be more aggressive in their investigative reporting of companies and political parties being dishonest and less aggressive in looking for scandals of celebrities doing drugs or having extra-marital affairs...but that's just me. Magazines that write about celebrities are popular everywhere in the world, not just Japan...

How about you? What kind of stories do you like to read in magazines? What would you like to see more or less of?

Have a great day!



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