Sorry for my absence, but I have had limited time this month—and especially limited time for certain nonsense that goes on among people who comment in the small circle surrounding what I call the Japan-side expat blogosphere.
This season’s flamewar looks to have gone as follows:
Freelance reporter Christopher Johnson has been looking to identify the person or persons behind a once-trafficked website, now looking pretty defunct, called “Japan Probe“. Japan Probe used to put up some interesting pop-cultural articles and managed to generate a decent number of hits. This has been in decline as the website turned into attacking reporters (with particular emphasis last year on Christopher Johnson). Johnson maintains that Eido Inoue is behind the site. Prior to his latest reporting, it seemed fairly conclusory that Inoue provided material to the site. In rare cases, this was for attribution, but in others it was obvious if you read between the lines.
Johnson apparently spent a good part of a year sitting on the site, and finally decided he nailed his man.
This declaration set off a whole bevy of internet shots, countershots, and meantweets. At some point, and it isn’t clear why or how, New York Times journalist Hiroko Tabuchi (who I’ve never figured out what the connection was between Johnson and her was) was somehow implicated in the brouhaha, for which Japan Probe promptly had an installment.
Next, there was a story about Inoue and Tepido.org/Japologism’s Yasumoto-Nicholson in Asia Times. In a quote or two, things that I concluded about what Johnson had reported are portrayed as if that’s my own conclusion. I don’t know if I should have to review this, but: if I write something, and someone else misinterprets it, that’s not my fault. It used to be, if you read something wrong, that’s you—not the writer!
This Asia Times story then prompted someone calling himself Jeremy Blaustein to send me a couple of meantweets. I don’t know Jeremy Blaustein or where he fits into the March flamewar. I’m not quite sure what his deal is, or if he is a longtime reader or what have you.
I don’t know if it pays to go over all this again, but here goes: I haven’t met Christopher Johnson and don’t “coordinate” anything about his reporting with him. I know about him, like you, from the original story about the visa snafu in Narita Airport around Christmas 2011. (Known as “Gulag for Gaijin”, it was not his best reporting.) Once Mr. Johnson became the subject of so many over-the-top personal attacks, I started to pay more attention to his situation, and it sounded to me like he had been managing on a certain number of “strings”, or reporting assignments in Tokyo, after he lost what sounds like regular employment (sei sha’in) with NHK. It sounds like there was a long-running feud from that, where the other individual took to badmouthing Mr. Johnson over the internet (Mr. Johnson has said that this is David Schaufele.) When Gulag made the topic on debito.org, there was another set of anonymous critics who got into the act. Like a pinball, the action moved to Japan Probe, and now Mr. Johnson has fingered Eido Inoue as the individual who did most of the criticizing at that website.
So this has gone on for about fifteen or sixteen months . . .
Still don’t know where Hiroko Tabuchi fit in in all of that.
I see two big concerns.
As I’ve been saying, the reporting world is changing. Newsprint is turning into a hyper-local product, and people are getting broader (state, national, international news) from the internet. I think it’s a concern when reporters in that sphere get to be shot at in the dark, so to speak, by people with a vengeance, a screwy agenda, or some other ax to grind. On the one hand, you might think it’s pretty dumb to go at, you know, a reporter. Seeing as how a reporter generally finds things out for a living. You’re not going to stay anonymous for very long.
Especially when it comes to a community like the expat one in Japan, which is more the size of a college town, centered around (but not exclusively) Tokyo, how are people going to find anything out? If the reporter has to watch what he/she says for fear of being the next target of self-important clowns in the shadows, I think it has a chilling effect on the reporting.
When I was in Tokyo, it was a bear figuring out what the real story was about the expat community and what the news was versus the rumor. So many people would tell me to “pick up Metropolis” or “go over to GaijinPot.com”. But these are not news outlets. They’re businesses.
No offense, but the international desk of the New York Times isn’t going to tell me what the story is in the expat community either. I’m going to get news of international significance.
We already see what happens when you rely on bloggers to tell you what’s going on. That doesn’t work.
So it will remain reporters; and, in this environment, bit reporters who are putting together “strings”. Now, in that hardscrabble environment, also having these people with a target on their back isn’t the best, is it?
Second, I am not confident, nor should you be, that Japan doesn’t do its best to control the news that makes its way back to America. You can imagine an easy formula: reporter on a “string”, news is not favorable, reporter no longer gets access. This is how local newspaper reporting went on for over a hundred years. Local mayor doesn’t like what’s written, beat reporter no longer gets the scoops. In developing far suburbia, it was even more about how all development, car-dependent development, was good. After all, notice how much the car dealership’s ads added to the weight of the paper.
I, for one, would like to know what is currently going on in Japan, without having to worry that the story is being spun because the reporter has to pay the rent. I’d hate to think that the reporter has got to be worried about being hounded in the shadows by anonymous people. I could see where that kind of environment, would, over time, make for there being less quality reporting, not more. And it wouldn’t be the fault of the reporter.
So I have no interest in flamewars. And I kind of just take it all in, making my own notes. It’s hard to see what the good purpose of it is, but easy to see the bad implications.
[Update 4/6/13: A note about comments below. While I still leave comments open, I do run a comment board that is MUCH tighter than it used to be, and I think many websites all over the internet are also appreciating that comment boards become the useful playground of trolls and other people who don’t mean well by what they post.
As is typical, this post has received correspondence below from someone who reads very much like a close associate of Jake Adelstein, who wants to deliver to you, the readers, a message he is spinning about CJ. His take differs from mine, and it becomes the old game of crying that they are being “blocked” because, boo hoo, they just happen to have an alternative view. (“Boo hoo! I am being blocked for my view!! And not the nasty (anonymous) thing I’m trying to doooo!!” Like that.)
So I hope this person, who does not use their name, appreciates the fact that I have to look at what they are saying, and think about it, before I just go hit “approve”. Approve, of course, doesn’t mean consent. It means I’m letting your part of the dialogue in, at my discretion.
You will also appreciate the fact that after I have written above, that I am not interested in flamewars, you attempt to start one here, while feigning respect for me and my forum. Please understand that you are being let in as someone who might be tolerated, in the off chance that you actually do have a reasonably objective perspective on the internet bullying that surrounds the Tokyo Japan-side expat community.
But frankly, it just sounds like you want to bring your flamewar over to another forum, and involve me in it.]