January 2018 Update: Ethics in Anime Journalism
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.
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.
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 Evergarden, I 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.
Anime News Network
English Light Novels
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…