Meeting the team from admirable investigative media Waseda Chronicle
INTERVIEW by Johann for Voice Up Japan/ Makoto Watanabe is Waseda Chronicle’s Editor-in-chief, an investigative Japanese media which has been providing a slow form of journalism with deep stories.
They are 18 writers in Waseda Chronicle, aged from 21 to 72 years old. Some are journalists, others aren’t but they all share one common goal and passion in life: the very strong need to fight social injustice. Since the very first story they ever published, they want to inform Japan, in a way that has never been done before. On February 1st 2017, everything started when they revealed, in their report entitled “Journalism for sale” how Dentsu and Kyodo News colluded for twenty years to slip sponsored contents into news articles.
Three years later, Waseda Chronicle shares its stories within 20 categories going from Human rights, Human trafficking, Labor rights, Health to Discrimination through Nuclear energy. The most-read stories are now viewed by 3 million readers. The team now also has independent writers located in South Korea where Makoto Watanabe used to have assignments when he was working for the Special Investigative section of the Asahi Shimbun, and Indonesia as well which allow international cooperation in the investigation process. “This way, we can dig deeper and extend the impact”, explained Editor-in-chief, Makoto Watanabe.
From next month, the website should become completely bilingual with translation from Japanese into English to be accessible for a larger audience. “We are cross-borders but also cross-professions: meaning we collaborate closely with researchers, doctors, and other NGOs, to cover for example Environnement issues, to be even more accurate.”
He didn’t realize it clearly at that time but the thirst to fight for social injustice was already strongly here.
When he was a student in University, Makoto Watanabe didn’t see himself as a reporter at all. But definitely as someone who cared deeply about other people’s feelings, especially when they were facing injustice. He remembers reading a lot about Kamikaze tokkotai (Special forces unit) while being in University. “At school, I remember about that girl, my friend, who suffered from bullying from another boy. I was willing to help her, always thinking about a way to make it stop for her, at home, I was writing, searching for the rights words. I read it in front of the class. I printed it and distributed it.” He didn’t realize it clearly at that time but the thirst to fight for social injustice was already strongly here.
After his university studies, Makoto Watanabe started a career at Nippon Terebi Network’s Business section in 1998 before starting to get interests in the contents and finally entering the Investigation section of the Asahi Shimbun, as a journalist in 2000. He was surprised at that time to witness how “mass-media are scared to publish certain types of contents, news that the public need but that they consider offensive for government and authorities”. At that time, “I had so many stories I had to leave in the drawer of my office because my newspaper was too scared to put them in the public place.”
The story of Dentsu is possible for Waseda Chronicle because “we are independent, add-free and donations-funded non-profit. We don’t fear giants like Dentsu. For Japanese mass-media, they are clearly untouchable. It brings sponsors and it is by far, the largest advertiser in Japan.”
Ranked 67th for Freedom of press in 2019 by Reporters without borders, Japan used to be 11th in 2010.
“I was a reporter at the Asahi Shimbun with all the benefits that come with it: I could have stayed like that all my career if I wanted to but I decided to change my lifestyle for journalism that mattered to me.”
According to Makoto Watanabe, one of the reasons why Japanese mass-media don’t have an interest in social injustice is that “mass-media reporters are elitists people, here. They stay together, have a good situation, a good lifestyle. They are completely disconnected from the rest of the population and they show no interest in minorities, like women or foreigners issues, because they don’t understand their feelings and their needs in life. And they don’t care.” A harsh critic but an analysis he has done from his very own experience. “I was a reporter at the Asahi Shimbun with all the benefits that come with it: I could see how the circles work and I could have stayed like that all my career if I wanted to but I decided to change my lifestyle for journalism that mattered to me.”
As a non-profit organization, Waseda Chronicle works mainly for donations. The extremely friendly team, which looks like a family, shares a small co-working space in Iidabashi. In Waseda Chronicle, there are no deadlines. “The investigation is done when it’s done. And it needs time: from 3000 hours up to 5 years for the longest of them.” And the result is stunning. Each story is rich of information at so many levels, as no other Japanese mass-media dare to do it today.
“This is the journalism Japan needs” 2020 January 20th : https://www.splicemedia.com/this-is-the-journalism-japan-needs/