ABD Vol.29 No.3
The Future of Periodicals from the Perspectives of Media Studies

Shin Mizukoshi


Current State of Media in Japan

As we near the end of the century, television channels proliferate, exceeding several hundred in number, and new kinds of media, including the Internet, continue to be introduced at a rapid pace. Regarding the current media situation, some outstanding characteristic phenomena have taken place in the last 2-3 years in Japan. First, during the last 10-20 years it has been said that young people read fewer and fewer books, which have been superseded by comics (or manga in Japanese) and the establishment of a special manga culture. But today it is not only comic books but video games and mobile or cellular phones that attract young people. They have begun to spend more time chatting on cellular phones with their friends instead of reading comic books. Second is the fall of television which had been enjoying a dominant position in the Japanese media since the mid-'70s. One reason is that people began to view the contents of television programmes more critically, and secondly, televisions now have to face a new type of competition from other media such as digital satellite broadcasting, Internet, numerous cable TV channels, etc. Thirdly, the frenetic craze for computers and Internet is exerting pressure on the general public and they are rushing in to use computers even though they are not quite aware what computers are for. If a man spends more time using a computer, he has to decrease the time spent on other activities.

"Media Literacy"

Thus, dominant media with mass production and mass consumption are on the decline. Printed media including comics have to compete with new types of media, and some media which were alien some years back have become part of our daily lives. Today, media are undergoing a structural change. When we consider how to regard this media society, "media literacy" would be the key word, which is rather a new idea. There are several meanings to this word and I would like to discuss it in three dimensions.

1) "Media literacy" as the ability to use media This refers to the ability to use media equipment like computers and software. Just as people need literacy to read and write a language, they need media literacy when they adjust themselves to an "information society". In other words, this is a technical ability stemming from industrial demand. It is strongly required when the computer and information industry is acting to open up new market demands for their products. For example, operation of a computer to see a web page, recording a TV programme during one's absence, making a mobile phone memorize telephone numbers of acquaintances, etc. are "media literacy" in this sense. Lack of this ability is becoming a big problem today especially among the elderly people.

2) "Media literacy" as the ability to receive media The term "media literacy" in this sense became especially relevant in the '80s in Canada and Australia. In Canada, it was used to take a critical view of American media. In those days, people in Canada were over-exposed to American culture including Hollywood movies, CNN broadcasting, publications and comics and there was a move to oppose American cultural imperialism. The term was originated by people in Canada and referred to taking a critical view of American media, and was implemented in education at schools. Later it developed into citizens' activities all over the world. Thus, the second definition refers to the ability to view the contents of media critically. We have to carefully see the situation around us and receive information with a critical view before determining what is right or wrong. For example, when we use reference pages such as Yahoo! we should be aware that information given by Yahoo! is not all the information available on Internet. Such reference pages are very convenient, but we should remember that there is already some bias when they select what to put on their pages.

3) "Media literacy" as ability to express by media The third definition refers to the ability to express one's thoughts and opinions by using various media. It has developed through practical school education in relation to studies of educational engineering, educational methodology and cognitive psychology. Naturally the content of a programme is very important, but it cannot be produced without using some kind of an editorial tool. And today's various tools enable anyone, not only professional people, to participate in expressing one's ideas, for example, children editing class newspapers at school, rural people producing a community homepage on the Internet or independent video journalists who cover news often neglected by the giant media. This is media literacy in the third sense.

These three abilities are closely related to each other, integrated and should not be separated. In order to produce attractive and high-quality work, people need to be critical about what they see or hear, need to know how to use various tools and equipment as well. They are the abilities that enable us to use new media for the benefit of the future information society.

What is Media Literacy for Printed Media?

When we talk of "Media Literacy" of printed media, we often refer to it as the ability to receive. But it also refers to the ability to understand a specific format such as books and be able to use the skills to read them. In a book, the time sequence of a story is converted into space and you need to turn the pages in order to follow the story. Flipping through the pages, for instance, is a skill gained through practice. Printed books and magazines we take for granted today could have been a strange new medium just a few centuries ago.
When we talk of "Media Literacy" of printed media, we often refer to it as the ability to receive. But it also refers to the ability to understand a specific format such as books and be able to use the skills to read them. In a book, the time sequence of a story is converted into space and you need to turn the pages in order to follow the story. Flipping through the pages, for instance, is a skill gained through practice. Printed books and magazines we take for granted today could have been a strange new medium just a few centuries ago.
Every medium was once new and alien to people when it was first introduced. We must not become blinded by the technology in front of us, be it digital or paper. And the forms that the various media took were fostered and developed by human creativity and the cultural standards of the society. The invention of printing technology by Johann Gutenburg in the 15th century did not immediately result in the publication of books and magazines. The form of printed media changed from the picture scrolls, then to folded type and finally to bound books and magazines that we are accustomed to today. Such publications gradually took shape as the technology for printing and paper-making developed, especially thin durable paper, and the invention of high quality ink, as well as forms of bookbinding and editing developed in society. I call this perspective, which looks at media from the viewpoint of people and society, socio-media studies, as opposed to techno-centrism which views the birth of new media simply as a development of media technology.

Magazines in the Future from the Viewpoint of Media Studies

Use of the Internet spread rapidly from the mid-'90s. Recently, periodicals have begun to appear on web pages available on the World-Wide Web (WWW). The most well-known are on-line or electronic newspapers, and on-line versions of major newspapers in every country are published daily.
There are several issues regarding on-line periodicals. The first is the lack of a firmly established profit system. In many countries publishers of on-line periodicals are now groping for an answer to the question of whether the readers should be charged or whether publication should rely solely on income from advertising. A second problem is that newspaper companies or publishing firms do not sufficiently understand on-line periodicals yet, and in many cases, are actually biased against them, an issue common to every country. Another issue is the entry of much larger information industries in on-line publishing that outstrip former mass media companies or journalistic enterprises. Many fear that this will have an adverse effect upon on-line periodical journalism. Finally, we need to find an appropriate style for writing and editing articles for on-line periodicals. Looking at the above issues from the perspective of media studies, the last one, the pursuit of a unique form, is the most important.
The on-line version of the largest newspaper in Japan, Asahi Shimbun (asahi.com) with a daily print run of 8.4 million, which is accessed by as many as 7 to 8 million visitors a day on average is the most popular site of this type in Japan. Asahi's initial on-line version was basically a reproduction of the printed newspaper on the computer. This, however, attracted very few readers and gradually they tried different forms, changing the layout, the number of words used in a page and the way of using photographs. The on-line version must, of necessity, differ in the design from regular paper publications which most efficiently convey the contents, and it is also important to note that the form of on-line periodicals determines the contents as a result.
Moreover, the form is not solely created by the media themselves, but also by the reader community. In other words, on-line periodicals are designed through interaction with society. If the social situation and culture changes, form of magazines will have to be changed. Today's magazines and books have developed and changed their forms over a long period. Thus, it will be necessary to have innovation in creating new forms and designs according to the society and culture. Another point is to take into consideration that the readers of magazines have formed communities.
There are two interesting comments by the heads of two major newspaper companies. The president of Asahi Newspaper Company said that in order to develop in the 21st century, they will aim at becoming an integrated media industry. That means that they are determined to include in their enterprise, television broadcasting, cable television, on-line publications, etc., the policy shared by many around the world. On the other hand, the owner of the New York Times said that they will endeavour to retain the identity of New York Times which is the quality of the newspaper published over 100 years and the relationship with the readers who share the culture through reading the New York Times. He declares that it will remain a quality newspaper together with their target readership, although it may not be a printed one in the future.
In conclusion, I would have to convey two contradictory comments on the future of magazines and periodicals. First of all, the identity of a magazine should change as the readers' community and the form of society changes, however, the publishers should not leave everything up to them, but should retain their identity in some way. Without knowing exactly what the goals and aims are, your publication is likely to become something completely different. There should be things that are solid and permanent, but there are others that need to be changed.
If we believe that periodicals have played an important role in the world's cultures over the past few centuries, if we love books and magazines, then this issue is not someone else's problem, but our own. It is essential that we consider how to approach the changing conditions surrounding the relationship between the publisher and the reader. To do this we must focus on media literacy in its broader sense.
(Edited by ACCU from the original lecture delivered in Japanese at the 1998 Training Course on Production of Periodicals for children II, 17-29 September 1998, Tokyo)

Mr. Shin Mizukoshi
Born 1963 and graduated from the College of Comparative Culture in Tsukuba University in 1985. He became research associate of The Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies (presently The Institute of Socio-Information and Communication Studies) in Tokyo University in 1989 and since 1993, he has been its associate professor. Majoring in Media Studies, he is one of the leading figure in the field of media literacy. Has written and co-authored several books including, "Media-Studies" (Japanese), "Media of the 20th Century: Electric Media and the Modern Age"
Shin Mizukoshi
Associate Professor, Institute of Socio-Information and Communication Studies, The University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033 Japan, fax: (81)3 3811 5970, e-mail: mizukosi@isics.u-tokyo.ac.jp