Sunday Tangent: Eric Johnston on getting freelance reporting jobs in Japan


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Hi Blog.  Went out mountain cycling yesterday and became a cropper:  went over my handlebars on a steep trail (good thing I was wearing a helmet — my bike came down right on my head) and bent my fingers right back on my right hand.  Will go easy on the typing today.

I attended the Japan Writers’ Conference last weekend in Kyoto (even presented, handout here).  A very good time with some very good presentations, one of which was Eric Johnston’s excellent presentation on how to find freelance journalist jobs in Japan. There was so much information in his powerpoint that I asked if I could blog it here for wider consumption. Yeppers, he said, so here are some excerpts. Download the whole powerpoint below for the full story. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

A Practical Guide
By Eric Johnston
Deputy Editor
The Japan Times
Osaka bureau

Japan Writers Conference
October 18th, 2009


This presentation assumes. . .
You have an interest in straight reporting and writing news features on a wide variety of timely events, as opposed to writing a personal opinion column, doing book, music, art, or restaurant reviews, or writing up interview pieces.

You have a love of, and preference for, traditional print and broadcast media and appreciate the traditional editorial methods they embrace.


Getting Started: What All Successful Freelance News Reporters in Japan Usually Have

1) Bilingual business cards
2) A Web page with their articles
3) A bilingual PC
4) A cell phone capable of international calls
5) Easy access to a host of basic facts and figures about Japan, including major on-line daily news stories
6) A decent digital camera
7) Receipt books and notebooks for accounting purposes
8) A local Japanese person who serves as your “fixer’’, either paid or volunteer


How Much Experience Do I Need Before I Can Realistically Expect To Be Considered for a Job?

  • You Need To Have Been Published in a Similar Media Form Previously.
  • You Need To Demonstrate You Know How To Pitch A News Story To The News Editors, and Understand Their Concerns.
  • Personal References Are Helpful, But It’s No Substitute for a Decent Portfolio.



3 comments on “Sunday Tangent: Eric Johnston on getting freelance reporting jobs in Japan

  • Thanks for posting that, Debito. Some very good advice from a very good journalist, especially the section about covering conferences etc for overseas news media.

    I wouldn’t however ever advocate working without payment in media, regardless of experience.

    If the aim is to make a living from freelance journalism (or the like), I would also suggest that once a writer has built up a portfolio with Japan-based media (which is fairly easy to break into) they should focus on primarily covering Japan for overseas media as the pay is better. Rates have dropped a bit of late but $0.40 to $1/word would still be a fair range and $2/word still isn’t unheard of with some custom published/corporate magazines.

    I’m also a little more optimistic in my outlook. Away from newspapers, which have really been hit hard the past year, there is still a lot of work out there and the last few months I’ve noticed a definite uptick in freelance demand from overseas.


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