Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Vanquishing Number of Foreign Correspondents in Japan

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Vanquishing Number of Foreign Correspondents in Japan

Article excerpt

WESTERN FOREIGN correspondents -- mainly American and British -- are leaving Tokyo in droves, ironically driven from one of the world's most important datelines by the strengthening yen, which makes the cost of maintaining a full bureau unrealistic for most newspapers.

The latest casualty is the Baltimore Sun, which this month closed the doors on a Tokyo bureau which had been a mainstay of its prestigious foreign service for some 20 years. Bureau Chief Tom Easton goes to work for Forbes magazine in New York and the Sun may rely on a stringer in Tokyo from now on.

But the strong yen is only part of the story. American newspaper circulation and advertising performances are sagging drastically. The combination of increased costs caused by a yen that has doubled in value against the dollar in 10 years, plus the newspapers' need to economize, inevitably finds corporate bean counters settling on "luxurious" foreign bureaus as the targets for cutbacks.

The problem is far from predominantly economic. The result of the declining number of American news bureaus means fewer American newsmen looking at the key U.S.-Japan relationship. This reduced number of voices is a serious consequence for an American reading public which is seeing a declining amount of foreign news and analysis by independent resident correspondents.

The situation has grown to the point that the number of American correspondents covering Japan is less than the number of Japanese correspondents covering the U.S. The same is true in the cases of South Korea and Taiwan.

Next to Washington, D.C., where approximately 2,000 foreign correspondents work, and New York City, where a contingent of about 1,000 covers the United Nations, Tokyo hosts the world's third largest number of correspondents (about 800) -- both foreigners and local nationals -- working for foreign news companies. Tokyo is THE Asian dateline. Japan is the world's second biggest economy with the highest foreign exchange reserves. It is a leader by example in many fields. It is a diplomatic crossroads. Beyond that, it is a charming, frustrating, surprising country that foreigners never seem to tire of trying to analyze.

But high costs in Tokyo are responsible for diminishing the number of foreign correspondents in Japan, particularly from general news publications.

In 1994, there were 48 British publications represented here and the number has dropped by 12 this year. The United States has by far the most correspondents covering Japan -- 303, of whom 166 are Americans and 137 Japanese, from 89 organizations. Last year the totals were 326, 185, 141 and 91, respectively.

One American organization said on pulling up stakes that it had been spending $800,000 annually to keep a correspondent there -- to pay Tokyo's unrealistic rents for apartment and office, communications, and other expenses.

The old days of bureaus huddled in the Marunouchi business district have disappeared. To reduce costs, many correspondents have moved their offices from downtown locations to the suburbs.

Two correspondents of major specialty publications now virtually live in Seoul and commute to Tokyo.

Others live with Japanese wives in prefectures close to the metropolis. One computer-armed stringer describes his tiny home office as an "electronic rabbit hutch."

The recent sharp decline in numbers of correspondents and news organizations representing Western nations has its counterpoint in the increase, over the past decade, in numbers of correspondents from the People's Republic of China (from four in 1985 to 22 in 1995; figures for 1985 are estimates). …

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