Student reporter reflects on The Mainichi’s role in sharing Japan’s news with the world

Mainichi editor-in-chief Robert Sakai-Irvine is seen at The Mainichi Newspapers headquarters in Tokyo. (Mainichi / Wataru Hatakeyama)

TOKYO – We live in an ocean of information online, with relentless competition for our attention every second our eyes are on a screen. This is not news to anyone, but the news – as in traditional newspapers – must join the digital fray for their stories to reach readers. At Mainichi Shimbun, her English-language online edition, The Mainichi, is part of that effort, and one of the newspaper’s “Campal” student reporters visited the publication to find out how it defines itself in the digital space.

The Mainichi was founded in Osaka in April 1922, on the occasion of Edward Prince of Wales’ visit to Japan, and after nearly eight decades of printing, it became exclusively online in April 2001. Despite this stint from newsprint to pixels, The Mainichi’s mission has remained the same: to get accurate information about Japan gathered by local journalists around the world. The heart of her job is translating Mainichi Shimbun’s articles into English for her news site, but her staff also do their own reporting and writing on topics related to Japan.

One of the cogs of the Mainichi machine is Robert Sakai-Irvine, 45-year-old editor-in-chief from Toronto, Canada, and one of those responsible for the selection, attribution, editing and checking articles on The Mainichi website.

“I’ve always liked to write,” he says. “And I have a long-standing interest in Japanese culture, ever since I watched Japanese cartoons and Akira Kurosawa movies on television when I was a kid in Canada.” Sakai-Irvine arrived in Japan in 1999 and after a few years as an assistant language teacher in college, he completed his graduate studies in 2008. He joined The Mainichi soon after as an editor.

As a desktop editor assigning articles for translation, “I mainly try to choose information that will spark the interest of readers around the world and deepen their understanding of the politics, social issues and culture of Japan.” Sakai-Irvine said. But that doesn’t just mean the stories that appear on the front pages of major Japanese dailies.

On August 29 of this year, The Mainichi published an English version of a Campal article published online earlier this month on research into the culture of regional dialects in Japan, as well as an online service that surveys visitors. on these dialects and assigns them a “prefecture affection rating.” Campal’s article was apparently chosen because it would be of interest to foreign readers.

Mainichi’s pages also include articles on Japanese pop culture and, in non-coronavirus times, articles on tourism for visitors to Japan.

But turning Japanese articles into English articles is not just a matter of direct translation. “When we translate, we are basically treating the Japanese version as the source of a new English article,” Sakai-Irvine said. To ensure the final products are accurate and easy to read for a foreign audience, staff will contact journalists in the field to verify details, and sometimes collect and include additional information.

Additionally, “We try to choose a mix of hard news, like accidents and disasters, and light readings on cultural or tourism topics, to make the whole document accessible and interesting to read.”

Mainichi editor-in-chief Robert Sakai-Irvine is seen at work at The Mainichi Newspapers head office in Tokyo. (Mainichi / Wataru Hatakeyama)

The news that left the biggest impression on Sakai-Irvine during his time at The Mainichi, he said, was the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in March 2011.

“The foreign media talked about it a lot. But some of these reports were exaggerated and panicked, as if it was some kind of entertainment,” he said. “With all that is going on, it struck me very much that it was essential for us to remain calm and stable and to deliver accurate news directly from Japan.”

Going forward, Sakai-Irvine said he wanted to “cover immigration issues, environmental issues and media education in Japan.” He also had a message for Campal student reporters: “I would like students to read and understand Japanese news in English. but problems shared across the world. ”

The Mainichi will continue to sketch a timely and accurate picture of Japan to the world. And for this student reporter, it seems like an essential task for a newspaper in the digital age.

(Japanese original by Wataru Hatakeyama, Nihon University and Campal reporter)

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A “campus” and “pal” coat rack. The official name is “Mainichi Shimbun Campal Editorial Department”. Campal’s first article was published on February 4, 1989, and appeared every Tuesday in the Mainichi Shimbun evening edition in the coverage area of ​​the newspaper’s headquarters in Tokyo. About twenty student reporters, mainly from universities in the Tokyo metropolitan area, participate in its activities. The department’s mission is to “convey what students want to know”. Students do everything from planning to writing reports and writing. It has expanded to nine zones nationwide.

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