(Mainichi Japan) October 19, 2011
Spirit of journalism shines through in times of devastation

At a round-table talk held last month at the Mainichi's Sendai bureau by a panel of third-party experts comprising the Open Newspaper Committee, Koichi Omi, the president of the publisher of the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun, explained what motivated the paper's staff to continue providing news with pen and poster paper in the immediate aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

"Our papers are on display at an American museum and we've been awarded a prize by the International Press Institute, but what we did is not a heartwarming story at all," said Omi, of the "newspapers" that the disaster-stricken Miyagi-based paper continued to post on walls in evacuation centers and other public spaces.

"We simply wanted to keep delivering information to people.

We felt there would be no point for us to continue living if we didn't fulfill our duty."

Anyone involved in the newspaper industry is bound to find these words moving.

When the company lost the usual tools for issuing and delivering its papers, they remembered that they still had pen and paper.

In "Rokumai no Kabe Shimbun" (Six wall newspapers), a newly-published book recording the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun's efforts in the seven days following the quake and tsunami, Omi says that he had been reminded of the "kabe shimbun" (literally meaning "wall newspapers") he wrote and received praise for in elementary school.

Speaking of handwritten newspapers, there's another one that has left an indelible impression on me.

It was July 1982, when heavy rains and flooding in Nagasaki led to 299 people dead or missing in one night.

The hardest-hit areas became physically isolated, making regular newspaper distribution virtually impossible. 地域は孤立して新聞輸送が困難になった。

The Nagasaki bureau chief of the Mainichi was determined to continue delivering information to those areas where it was still possible, however, and prepared copies of a one-page handwritten "newspaper" with headlines that read: "Nagasaki suffers great damage from heavy rains," and "116 dead or missing, while 95 buried alive," using a felt-tip pen to fill the page with information that the staff could obtain by the pre-dawn hours.
 「豪雨 長崎に大被害」「死者・不明116 生き埋め95」と大きな見出しをつけ、明け方までに判明した限りの情報を整理し、フェルトペンで書き連ねた。

Ultimately, a Mainichi head office helicopter braved the poor weather conditions to deliver the regular morning edition of the newspaper, and the handwritten version never made it into the hands of readers.

However, a copy of the handwritten extra edition is still posted on the wall of the bureau office, and the accompanying story is passed down even today to and by the staff posted to the bureau.

Following the floods, the local Nagasaki page of the Mainichi continued to provide readers with information on how they could secure food, clothing and shelter, supporting the public in their efforts to rebuild their lives.

Compared to 30 years ago, we now have a wider range of means to disperse information, and the speed by which we can do so has risen immensely.

And yet, the sense of responsibility and passion that a handwritten newspaper represents still touches the hearts of its readers.

This same can also be said of forms of media other than the handwritten newspaper.

Take, for example, what the Chugoku Shimbun did in August 1945.

After the company headquarters were completely destroyed by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the paper set up a "word-of-mouth" team that went around the city yelling information through megaphones.

Inspired by the paper's efforts, the late playwright Hisashi Inoue wrote the play "Shonen kudentai 1945" (Boys' word-of-mouth squad).

The following is a line from the play, spoken in the Hiroshima dialect: "It's a bit pathetic when a newspaper publisher can't issue any newspapers, isn't it?"

It may be a line that originated in a writer's imagination. But I can't help but feel that it epitomizes the inexhaustible spirit of the journalist.

(By Kenji Tamaki, Expert Senior Writer)
毎日新聞 2011年10月18日 東京朝刊

by kiyoshimat | 2011-10-21 08:11 | 英字新聞

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