On September 30th morning, we went to Asahi shimbun and interviewed Mr. Takuji Amamori, the Senior Administrator of Media Lab
Mr. Amamori has a variety of experiences. After graduating from Keio University, he joined Asahi shimbun. To our surprise, Mr. Amamori’s major was not even related with media, instead of which, it was nuclear.
Out of personal interest in computer, he was involved with the development and management of creating newspaper system, support team of collecting data, secretariat works. With the development of Internet, from 1999, Mr. Amamori joined a new system development program, which aimed at facilitating the archiving of articles, distribution of mail magazine, constructing a news distribution channels for the news. After 3 years staying in Silicon Valley, he worked for a project called ANY project, which involving Asahi shimbun, Nihon keizai shimbun and Yomiuri shimbun, trying to develop a new business model. And currently, he is leading an innovation section called media lab.
Asahi shimbun media lab is set up in June 2013 as a new organization to challenge the radical changes of the environment surrounding the media, break its own shell and try to propose innovative product or business.
Throught the communication with Mr. Amamori, we leant a lot about Asahi shimbun, including innovation, the way to select news topic, social responsibility and recruitment of foreign student. Concerning innovation, Mr. Amamori shared recent innovative event with us and briefly introduced the process and evaluation standards of last year’s event. Then, he used empirical example, such as the way to decide front page and the eruption of Mount Ontakesan, to illustrate how newspaper publisher works and how CSR is assumed.
His experience shows how creative and significant one’s career can be. What important is that he let us know that one is not limited by university major or other challenge when you have passion and really commit hard work. Thank you Mr. Amamori for your time and kindness!
Students: Thank you for accepting the interview from us today. We are very interested in knowing Asahi Shimbun Media Lab. Would you be ok to introduce the media lab to us and yourself, your profile, and your experiences?
Mr.Amamori: We are Newspaper Company. Unfortunately our business is shrinking due to the technological change. Therefore our challenge is to develop new business models and channels. As a part of such initiative, we established this media lab. This media lab consists of employees coming from different departments/divisions with diverse background and specialties. The concept of Media Lab is open innovation, which means that we cherish the “chemistry among people react and boost up innovation”. In media lab, we not only make news on the internet, but also we have to consider about online and offline when making new decisions.
Students: Can you tell us more about yourself? When did you start working with Asahi Shimbun which division were you in?
Mr.Amamori:It is actually a long history!
Talking about my major back in my university, my major was nuclear engineering. Sounds bit different from news media right? But even though I was studying nuclear engineering, I always wanted to convey messages to people through media, so I was very interested in media industry. When I was doing my research, I had a chance to realize the potential of computer: I foresaw computer would be big and change people’s life. So I thought I wanted to do something with Media as well as computer.
I have been working with Asahi Shimbun for 25 years, but my career here actually started as I dreamed when I was a university student. I started working at newspaper products, production system, and maintenance and development division where I was working as an IT engineer. There, I worked as the secretary of top executive. After computer came to a work place, top executive tried to utilize computer but needed some guidance and assistance. I was mainly working to help them.
Later on, I worked on several IT related projects, such as development of networks called asahi.com. I also joined the project, which was run by a consorsiam of competitor news agency: the project is called ANY (Asahi Shimbun+Nikkei Shimbun+Yomiuri Shimbun). Together, we made a new news media web site combing the three giant news companies. This Media Lab was established in 2013 and I was transferred here.
Students: What kind of innovation projects do you have here in Media Lab?
Mr.Amamori:There is a project called Start Up idea contest for employees. We call for innovative ideas from employees and we select top 10 ideas as finalists within which we further select the top three candidates, migrate them here in the media lab and we help them put ideas into reality. For example, one project we did was about “Asahi biography朝日自分史” combining your life timeline with what happened and reported on Asahi Shimbun. People can create their own bibliography in the form of proper book. As one service, we as journalists can provide advice to customers on how to write the biography. We believe that there are two advantages of Asahi Shimbun that can contribute to the success of this ‘Asahi Biography’ project: firstly Asahi Shimbun have many archives of news and stories, and secondly we are the network of experienced journalists. With these specialties, we can help customers write their own stories in a professional manner and create their one and only history book.
Students:For Start Up idea contest, what is the selection criteria for choosing the top ten idea entries?
Mr.Amamori:There are five criteria, 10 judges from Asahi Shimbun, 2 external contract advisors who give advice and neutral comment. 1st criteria: are there any meaning for Asahi Shimbun to do it? 2nd criteria: the novelty; 3rd: the market potential; 4th criteria: is it very well thought, written and concrete? 5th criteria: is it good for the customers? Does it target the need of the customers? Additional consideration is how driven and determine the contestant is. Only the 10 finalists who pass the screening will do the presentations.
The judges are people in the company who have just been promoted to management level. They also have some business experiences.
Students:So what are the motivations of those employees to participate in this contest? Do they have a reward, like a salary bonus? Or is it for recognition?
Mr.Amamori:There is no bonus or particular reward. However, if you’re selected to be among the 10 finalists, the company will provide you with all the necessary research funds. It will also cover the expenses (such as travel expenses) in order to ensure that your idea will be successfully realized.
Students:So it’s really as if you were an entrepreneur inside the company, basically…and you get the intangible recognition.
Mr.Amamori:Indeed, by doing so, you don’t have to quit the company and make a loan to create your own startup in order to make your idea come to life.
One additional motivation to participate might be that those employees have more chances to further develop their career. Actually all of the 10 finalists transferred to Media Lab. So the main motivation is that their ideas can actually be realized. Passion is really the main factor.
Students: We would now like to ask you more about the nature of news media in general. We would like to ask you about how the articles are selected. What is the decision process behind the publication of articles?
Mr.Amamori: If you are talking about the Media Lab, then as you might know, we have a Facebook page and we can choose on our own what to publish. But if you are talking about the general newspaper Asahi Shimbun, then it is quite different. (He takes the most recent copy of the newspaper and shows it to us). So as you can see, here on the front page, we have the accident of Mount Ontake. The information here is based on what kind of things people are interested in, what they want to hear, and also what they should know. Then at the bottom, we have the daily column. (He opens the newspaper). If there’s no such current major event like the accident of Mount Ontake, then the front page would be general information about for example Japan’s current state of affairs. Otherwise it’s on the first page when you open the newspaper. Here, as you can see, it’s about PM Shinzo Abe’s latest announcement.
Students: How do you find out what people are interested in? I understand that intuition plays an important part, but do you also use for example questionnaires?
Mr.Amamori: Well, some information, such as dengue fever, are quite prominent. But usually, the journalists collect information from different institutions, such as the government, the police, corporate press releases… Actually, the journalists endeavor to visit those “hubs” of information, such as academic institutions, research institutes, but if they rely too much on that, the information may become biased. So they also try to get in touch with local communities. Basically, they gather information from very different places and put them together.
Students: With the arrival of social media, the way information is conveyed to the readers is different. How do you feel it has changed? What did social media change?
Mr.Amamori: Regarding social media… Asahi Shimbun is using Twitter more actively than its competitors. As you may know, social media is now integrated into conventional media, both are mixing up. So social media has become a good tool for news agencies to find out what the majority wants to hear about. Through social media, we can collect information, see how people react to tweets, if those are retweeted a lot… As you can see on the page, each individual journalist shows his/her name and Twitter account to the public. 10% of our 2,000 journalists have an official Twitter account.
Students:How do you deal with the competition from social media? For example, in the case of the Mount Ontake accident, the information was right away on the internet. How did Asahi Shimbun react to that?
Mr.Amamori:Well, in the case of Mount Ontake, there was a person caught there who tweeted about the accident right after it happened. All the journalists reached out to him. But in this case, when there is an accident, the issue of morality comes up. The journalists form a scrum (like in rugby) together, regardless of being competitors. They come together, and decide on the ethical steps to take as a journalist. Indeed, still in the case of Mount Ontake for example, if the helicopters of the journalists are flying around, the rescuers may not be able to hear the voices of the victims. Therefore, in those instances, journalists can become obstacles for rescuers; so they come together, make a deal, and decide to back out. Also, in the case of such incidents, social media can get a little problematic because a lot of journalists can have access to personal information of those involved, including their photos. So they still need to work on how to use social media appropriately in these situations.
Anyhow, I think that the potential of social media for news agencies is that they can understand what kind of conversations people have within each network. Before social media, they had no way to have access to individual conversations, and know about the areas of interests of the majority; but now everything is available. It’s the same with smartphones. Everybody is using them. By knowing what kinds of apps people are using, news agencies can learn a lot. So Asahi Shimbun is collaborating with ventures and startup companies in order to try to get the information on people’s activities on their smartphones. They try to see the behavior, how long you spend on which app, etc.
Students:One last question. What is the value, or competence, that is most valued when (and if) Asahi Shimbun is hiring foreign students?
Mr.Amamori:Asahi Shimbun is not looking to necessarily recruit foreign students actively yet. However, if your specialty and area of expertise match what Asahi Shimbun is looking for, then of course there will always be opportunity. Asahi Shimbun goes beyond any nationality or ethnic border when we recruit people. Also, since Asahi Shimbun is targeted at a Japanese audience, the main language in the company is Japanese.
Students:Any way for us to be involved with Media Lab?
Mr.Amamori:We’ll be opening a new office of Media Lab tomorrow in Shibuya. Indeed, Shibuya is the hub of ventures and startups so we thought having an office there would make it easier to reach out to them. Please come and visit our new office!