The devastating effects of the ‘Great East Japan Earthquake’ (known internationally as the Japan 2011 earthquake) on Otsuchi, a small town in Iwate prefecture, are little known. This is partly because their local newspaper closed in 2011 due to damage inflicted by the earthquake, tsunami and fire. Now an online fundraising campaign [ja] has succeeded in gathering 2,496,000 Yen (US$31,000 dollars) to help build a new kind of newspaper.
Dubbed Otsuchi Mirai Shimbun (Otsuchi Future Newspaper), the project reaches out to Otsuchi citizens to teach them skills in reporting, and university students from all over Japan can sign up for internships to help make the newspaper. This unique combination of a hyper-local, hybrid newspaper uses both online and offline communication.
The first issue of Otsuchi Future Newspaper was printed in 250 copies and distributed to local citizens by bike. The content is also available online.
The newspaper also offers onsite training experience for both students and citizen reporters, where practice and theory meet – or maybe not. One student reporter looked back critically on a training workshop [ja], saying:
As for students like us who study “what is news”, I found it was more difficult to explain what it is to people in town.
Another student intern saw reactions to stories on Facebook [ja] as a potential motivator for citizen reporters:
663 people have seen the post on Facebook written by a citizen reporter. Many shared the story about a concert by Otsuchi Junior High School brass band club. “I feel like writing more articles!” said one citizen reporter, when I showed him the response on Facebook with my iPhone. Unlike paper-based media, the interactivity made possible by online articles seems to be a good motivation for reporters, where they can witness the amount of traffic and responses in real time.
Other students organized a workshop [ja] on using digital cameras and mobile phones to record news:
When I held [the workshop] in the tea salon, one citizen said to me, “I always have something to tell. I would become a citizen reporter with all other participants of the tea salon we have here. But I don't know how to take photos, I can’t use computers. So I can’t do it.” That’s why I decided to organize this workshop. After finishing the workshop, members of tea salon from temporary housing sector 20 [for displaced citizens] became citizen reporters! I’m so pleased for them.