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January 2018 Update: Ethics in Anime Journalism

violet evergarden

People like to complain about journalists a lot. Readers routinely vent their frustration at Anime News Network for whatever reason. For example, the latest This Week in Anime column had a vocal minority of people accusing the website for being “insulting and derogatory” because the writers used the word “heteronormative” in an opinion piece.

Of course, there is more to ethics in journalism than picking the “right” side in the culture wars. So I would like to dedicate today’s blog post to some of the ethical concerns I deal with as an anime journalist on a day to day basis.

Any opinions expressed here are my own and don’t reflect the stance of Anime News Network or Crunchyroll.

Dealing with Japanese Corporations

As an international organisation, Anime News Network deals with companies from all over the world. However, since I am a Tokyo correspondent, my personal interactions are mostly with Japanese corporations.

I am not sure if people fully realise how tightly regulated the media is in Japan, especially when it comes to reporting on the entertainment business. Journalists are often not allowed access to an event unless they allow the organisers to read and correct their articles before publication.

This is something that affects my own writing too when I am given press privileges. We even have to submit a Japanese translation of my articles, just for the check. And, yes, I have had to change my content significantly after receiving feedback from the organisers on one occasion.

I imagine that this may be one of the biggest points of differences between journalism in Japan versus the West. Organisers often say that some things can’t be photographed or written about in order to protect individuals or to avoid “spoiling” certain surprises that were intended only for the audience who paid to get into the event.

The same thing applies when you interview somebody. An organiser has to read and approve your questions before you ask them. There are lots of taboo questions; sometimes, certain topics are stated beforehand to be taboo, and other times, you have to follow your common sense and intuition.

After getting used to how things work in Japan, I actually experienced a minor “culture shock” at the Tokyo Game Show when I saw how blunt some of the American journalists were, very likely to avoid getting the stereotypical PR non-answers. Some of the questions they asked game developers were borderline rude in my eyes. So it’s a matter of perspective.

Dealing with corporations means walking a tightrope all the time. Journalists are not obliged to provide free advertising for corporations even though we rely on them for access to information. Whenever I get press access into an event, I try to keep the wording of my articles as neutral as possible.

saber

This Fate/Extra Last Encore article is an example of an article of mine that was checked before publication. As you can see, it is pretty innocuous stuff. This matches the content of the event itself, which was essentially just a promo for the anime. However, I avoided repeating the standard PR lines in favour of making the article about the insights the voice actors shared about their acting. First and foremost, I strive to make content that is interesting for the readers.

Writing for Crunchyroll

Writing for Crunchyroll Features is a different matter. I am writing for a streaming company that wants to promote its shows. For understandable reasons, the editors try to keep negative criticism of shows to a minimum.

However, this does not mean that there is a conspiracy among Crunchyroll Features writers to shill Black Clover, which is something people accuse me of whenever I say something nice about it. Writers can pick and choose which topics to write about, so if you don’t have anything positive to say about a show, then… don’t write about it. It’s that simple. Crunchyroll has such a huge catalogue of shows that no writer has ever been pressed to write about shows they don’t like or appreciate in some way. And it is the personal opinion of many writers (myself included) that we write our best pieces about thing that we like and are passionate about.

Having said that, it should be clear enough that Crunchyroll is not the place to go to if you want incisive criticism of shows they stream (or even the shows they don’t stream). I advise you to go to other websites for that.

Reviewing at ANN

I have the most editorial freedom writing reviews for ANN. Corporations do not have any sway over a reviewer’s opinion. Period.

There’s a different kind of ethical issue I come across whenever I review things on ANN, however, and that’s the issue of piracy. Almost everything I review is not legally available in the United States at the time of publication. Most of them will eventually be available, which is why there’s demand for a review, but the issue is when pirated versions of the content are easily available online. A review on a popular website may be seen as an “encouragement” to pirate. This is the reason why there’s no issue with me reviewing films, which don’t get a disc release until months later, while TV shows are a grey area.

Violet_Evergarden_Anime

Ordinarily, a popular Netflix exclusive show may get a “check-in” review covering the first few episodes (as we did with Kakegurui and Fate/Apocrypha last year), but it won’t get covered on an episode-to-episode basis. Violet Evergarden is an unusual case, given that it’s not simulcasting in the US, but it is streaming in enough English-speaking territories to warrant episode reviews.

When I took up the episode reviews of Violet EvergardenI did initially worry that I might face some harassment from angry fans, seeing that some of them had been sending angry emails to my editor about it. But fortunately, that has not been the case. The forum does have some responses from people who openly admit to pirating the show, but there’s not much that can be done about individual cases of piracy. There’s more to the English-speaking world than the United States, and those fans do deserve a place to analyse and discuss the most popular of this season.

On that note, I hope you are enjoying my Violet Evergarden reviews! It is my first time doing episode reviews, and I think it has been turning out well so far. A review of episode 4 should be out tomorrow — and hopefully not too late since I am currently in the process of moving house.

Anyway, I hope this post gives you a rough idea about what I actually do as a journalist. If you have any questions, feel free to ask, although I am not at liberty to answer everything. For now, I’ll just list every piece I’ve written this month that wasn’t mentioned above.

Crunchyroll

Why You Should Watch “The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done!”

Boy Meets Girl in The Silver Guardian

Anime News Network

C93: The Corporate Booths Reveal How Anime is Now Mainstream

The Best Animated Films from Japan in 2017

Design Festa Gallery: Mermaids and Prayers on a Star

Review: Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! Take On Me

Interview: Yuichi Terao, Chief of Ufotable’s Digital Team

The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide: Violet Evergarden

Macross’s 35th Anniversary at the Tokyo Skytree Shows Off Brand New Animation

Review: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Reflection

40 Years of Space Invaders Descends Upon Roppongi

Recovery of an MMO Junkie Voice Actors Discuss Meaning of Anime’s Title at Radio Show Live Recording

Governor Koike Attends Sword Art Online AR Event in Akihabara

English Light Novels

Guest Review: My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World (Vol. 1-7)


Additionally, I helped provide some questions for this interview with the producer and director of Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Plus, I was the ANN staff member whom Klab shared details with about their global release of the Uta no Price-sama mobile game. Boy, I sure was busy this month…

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Posted on January 31, 2018, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Cool article! Nice to hear a pro’s perspective on these matters! The only quibble I have is when you say not to go to Crunchyroll for incisive criticism on shows—and I say this more as a writer than an editor! I don’t personally consider “criticism” to only mean negative critiques, but to apply to any kind of critical analysis. And that, definitely, is something we put out a reasonable amount of at Crunchyroll (thinking of Bobduh’s Why It Works column and the other theme or analysis piece people write for us). So while you won’t find heavy criticism of something on CR (and I’d actually argue you don’t find a ton of that on ANN either), there definitely is some high-quality criticism happening there, not just a bunch of fluff.

    I may be somewhat biased, but again as I say, I speak more from my perspective of a writer on the team than an editor.

  2. Interesting! I happen to be an intern editor for an e-magazine in Canada, and I always have to send all my drafts to the people I interviewed for fact-checking. Thank goodness there aren’t that many ethical issues (or perhaps I’ve just been playing it safe most of the time), but the people I interview (primarily artists) edit things so heavily. They really nitpick about wording and connotations, on top of the usual fact-checking.
    It was super interesting reading your comparisons between different cites! Journalism can be a tough job.

  3. There’s definitely this struggle, this wrestling, that occurs between journalists/writers and the readers. And while it runs both ways, generally the readers are the ones to put all sorts of expectations upon the writers, generated from their own perspectives and experiences, the latter of which usually does not include professional writing.

    There’s usually no filter that allows only readers who THINK before they comment and are MATURE enough to be able to converse about writing and have enough PERSPECTIVE to question but understand they may be wrong come through. And while that’s generally a good thing, it causes many headaches—I’m sure more for one who makes a livelihood a journalist through sites that invite commentary (and lots of it).

    Stay strong and keep doing your awesome work!

  4. Mmm, bit irked on the American games journalism part – that’s how I feel we have to approach things to get answers, especially for posts that’ll stand out among the huge amount competition.

    What were examples of questions that seemed rude?

    Fun story: I once asked a developer a question related to something secret and he almost answered/slipped and replied “ahhh ha, you almost got me! ;)”

    • That was another wording mistake of mine. I should have mentioned that I felt that the American journalists were being more direct to avoid PR non-answers. I’ll add that to the post.

      As for a question that surprised me for being too direct, there was one journalist who asked about the Naruto and Boruto: Shinobi Striker game with a preamble about how an almost purely online fighting game experience will hurt the game’s reception, and then asked why that was a choice the developers made. I get why the question was asked but I felt bad for the developer.

  5. Hi Froggy, sorry this is only tangentially related to your post, but how long do you think you will continue doing journalism in Japan (within the foreseeable future)?

    I’m planning a three-week trip to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hokkaido this summer, and if you have some time I’d like to message you about things. It has been a while, in any case.

  6. Man, that’s something i have to keep in mind for future endeavors.

    In your opinion, would you think it better for a “would-be journalist” (not really my goal, but that’s what people may view it as) to find financial support in donations or with an actual job with a site/company? Or both? I’m genuinely curious because i want to write about my passion for anime, but not have to worry about censoring my opinions. I understand this depends on where i take my writing and will make sure to base my decision from there. I like the little stuff i do now and hope to make a decent living, if not a little side money, from this.

    Anyhow, good post. Tells me what i need to know about the journalism industry if i continue to pursue this career.

    • Well, the reality is, most anime journalists are freelancers. So they find gigs at various different sites and publications but aren’t necessarily attached to any single employer. I feel that there is more job security in having a salaried position, but some people enjoy the freedom that comes with freelancing.

      Either way, if you’re looking for writing opportunities, you need to pitch to various outlets. Keep up your blog, too, as you can use it for writing samples to show potential employers. And there’s nothing wrong with accepting donations from loyal readers.

  1. Pingback: [Links] 31 January - 6 February 2018: NHK and LGBTQ+ representation, Netflix and piracy, and #BlackGirlMagic - Anime Feminist

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