April Meeting Recap: Interview the Interviewers

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By Marie Mortreux, Public Relations and Communications Intern

Few’s April 2016 meeting gathered many members and guests interested in learning more about the experience of four successful female journalists living and working in Japan: Anna Fifield, Tokyo Bureau Chief for The Washington Post and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University; Tomoko Otake, staff writer, editor and deputy manager of the Domestic News section at The Japan Times; Kelly Wetherille, founding editor of Savvy Tokyo and Japan correspondent for Women’s Wear Daily; and Danielle Demetriou, Japan correspondent for The Daily Telegraph. The panel was moderated by FEW Member Carmela Fleury who joined those in attendance in “interviewing the interviewers.”

To begin, the panelists discussed the differences in journalistic practices in Japan compared to western countries, such as kisha clubs. Japanese journalism is also more inclusive, while western reporters try to scoop each other, seeing the sharing of the same info as limiting the “reporting” aspect of the job. They also explained that because of the strong relationships Japanese officials build with Japanese journalists, it can be much harder for foreign journalists to have access to the same information. The four journalists explained how long a process it can be to get an interview with a public figure and, beyond that, get a quote from them. Unfortunately, figures of authority, such as politicians, will often deny their own statements post interview and Kelly Wetherille explained many Japanese people don’t understand the difference between on and off the record.

Reflecting on their careers, the panelists shared some memorable experiences, both good and bad. They all enjoy the range of topics and people they can write about in Japan, especially people who are less on the radar that politicians and owners of large corporations. Tomoko Otake mentioned some downsides of being a female journalist in Japan, such as the lack of basic infrastructure for women like designated bathrooms inside the Bank of Japan (BOJ) Press Club. But she enjoys talking to real people about real issues and was most proud of her time interviewing Mukoseki people, those not registered at birth who are deprived of fundamental rights in society.

When asked about any experiences of sexism in their industry, Anna Fifield said it’s something she unfortunately sees on a daily basis, even if she doesn’t experience it herself. Similarly, Tomoko Otake mentioned 90 percent of the people she usually interviews are men, so she tries to incorporate more women into her stories whenever possible.

As for what it’s like to be a foreign journalist in Japan, Kelly Wetherille said it’s gotten a lot easier because of Japan’s push for globalization. Companies and businesses are now more inclined to have foreign journalists write about them and, as outsiders, foreigners also have more opportunities to report on topics Japanese society doesn’t want to discuss.

Kelly Wetherille also shared some of her tips for those looking to become freelance journalists:

  • Prepare for the transition in advance and consider all the ways it could impact your life (time, stress, money, etc.)
  • Work on your self-discipline and time management.
  • Build up your network of editors and sources.
  • Find a regular client you can count on for work each month to keep you financially stable, even if it isn’t your ideal topic or task.
  • Make sure you’re always doing your best work, no matter who it’s for.
  • Build up an online presence with a personal website and social media.

In conclusion, the journalists shared their experiences juggling work and home responsibilities, especially as mothers. Danielle Demetriou said logistics and having good support make it possible, especially because journalists are always on call. Tomoko Otake stressed leaving behind your perfectionist behaviors. Anna Fifield said while she sometimes feels guilty for traveling so much without her five-year-old son, she believes, as an independent, working woman, she’s helping him better understand gender parity. To help recharge her passion for her career, she also took some time off to complete a fellowship at Harvard University.

These four journalists are proof that even in a difficult industry, hard work and dedication are the means to success and we look forward to enjoying more of their great work.