From journalist to entrepreneur: Journalists' challenges and transitions

Part 2: Creating apps from reporting experience across the world - An Interview with Toshi Maeda, editor-in-chief of J-STORIES (Second in a three-part series)

Apr 19, 2024
BY TAKANORI ISSHIKI
From journalist to entrepreneur: Journalists' challenges and transitions
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J-STORIES - Celebrating its second anniversary in April 2022, J-STORIES, Japan's first solutions-focused media outlet, has been boldly disseminating information on Japanese innovations and groundbreaking ideas that could solve social problems around the world, both in Japan and abroad. In the previous issue (Part 1), J-STORIES Editor-in-Chief, Maeda talked about the time he was a student in which he first became interested in journalism and his early days as a reporter for an English-language newspaper. 
In Part 2, we asked Maeda to talk about how he changed his mind and became an entrepreneur to develop apps, after having tried his hand at journalism overseas.  (Interview recorded at the J-STORIES editorial office in December 2023)
Toshi Maeda is a journalist and media entrepreneur. After spending 15 years as a reporter, producer, and correspondent for international media outlets such as The Japan Times, Associated Press, and Reuters, Maeda founded Pacific Bridge Media and Consulting, Inc. the company has been providing comprehensive support for global information dissemination for companies and media, including video production, live distribution, and international events in multiple languages. He launched "J-STORIES" in 2022. Born in Tokyo, Japan.
Toshi Maeda is a journalist and media entrepreneur. After spending 15 years as a reporter, producer, and correspondent for international media outlets such as The Japan Times, Associated Press, and Reuters, Maeda founded Pacific Bridge Media and Consulting, Inc. the company has been providing comprehensive support for global information dissemination for companies and media, including video production, live distribution, and international events in multiple languages. He launched "J-STORIES" in 2022. Born in Tokyo, Japan.

Revisit the United States, the home of English journalism, to learn authentic journalism

In San Francisco, across the river from Berkeley.     Source: Toshi Maeda (same as below)
In San Francisco, across the river from Berkeley.     Source: Toshi Maeda (same as below)
Q: In the previous part, we asked you how you became a journalist. You told us that you left The Japan Times, where you had enjoyed a successful career, to challenge the "major leagues" in the world of English-language journalism. Could you clarify what you mean by "major league" in the world of English-language journalism?
Maeda: The home of English-language journalism, especially back then (early 2000s), was the United States. It was a time when the world of journalism was beginning to change drastically with the advent of the Internet, but the forefront of world news, such as 9/11, was happening in the United States. It was also the time when American regional newspapers, which had won many Pulitzer Prizes, still had a strong presence. I wanted to test whether the English-language journalism I had practiced in Japan would work in such a world. It was also an inevitable path for my subsequent career in the English-language media.
Q: I see. So you wanted to test your skills in the United States, the home of journalism.
Maeda: In my case, when I was a reporter for The Japan Times in Japan, I basically reported in Japanese and wrote articles in English. Therefore, one of the first challenges I wanted to take on was to be able to work side by side with American reporters, using English for both input and output. Before that, I had only lived in the U.S. for about a year, so I also had a strong desire to learn more about the U.S. and furthermore, to learn English journalism in earnest.
UC Berkeley's on-campus newspaper introduced him as "Japanese adventurer enrolls in journalism school”
UC Berkeley's on-campus newspaper introduced him as "Japanese adventurer enrolls in journalism school”

Becoming an instructor of Mass Communication Studies while studying in graduate school

With his host family, who took care of him who was a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar.
With his host family, who took care of him who was a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar.
Q: Did you go to the U.S. and ask American media companies to hire you out of the blue?
Maeda: I would not be able to get a work visa immediately, so I entered graduate school first. I received an Ambassadorial Scholarship from the Rotary Foundation and was able to enroll in the Graduate School of Journalism at California State University, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) near San Francisco, just before I turned 30.
Q; So you took a step of going back to school at the Graduate School of Journalism first. What did you do there? Was it like listening to famous journalists?
Maeda: I was taught various aspects of journalism, but basically, as a student, the most important thing I learned was to conduct interviews in the field. In Japan, I covered a lot of national-level politics, but in the U.S., I covered a lot of city council meetings, police, and social issues. In particular, covering city council meetings was a great opportunity for me to learn how democracy actually works at the grassroots level and how political decisions are made accordingly. The mayor of a neighboring town in Berkeley happened to be Japanese-American, and he was very kind to me as well as other leaders of the Japanese-American community. 
Q: I see. So even though you were a graduate student, you will continue to work as a reporter?
Maeda: Yes. I also worked as a teaching assistant (TA) , teaching "mass communication studies" to undergraduate students. At first, I was not sure if I would be able to give a good lesson in English to American students who were only about 10 years younger than me, but my experience as a newspaper reporter in Japan gave me confidence. As a result, I was able to teach a class of about 50 students, which was a very good opportunity and was helpful for me to pay my tuition. 
Press testimonial from the time he worked at Associated Press San Francisco bureau.   
Press testimonial from the time he worked at Associated Press San Francisco bureau.   

Became an Associated Press reporter and his own reporter on the front page of the newspaper.

An article featuring an exclusive interview with Hideki Matsui in the locker room after a game was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, a leading local newspaper.     
An article featuring an exclusive interview with Hideki Matsui in the locker room after a game was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, a leading local newspaper.     
Q: Teaching "Mass Communication Studies" in the U.S. is amazing. You said you were a graduate student, but you were also working.
Maeda: Speaking of work, I worked as a reporter at the San Francisco bureau of the Associated Press while attending graduate school. I think this was because of my experience working at the Tokyo bureau of the Associated Press in my early 20s, and they appreciated my experience as a reporter for an English-language newspaper in Japan.
When I wrote articles for the Associated Press, news was distributed throughout the U.S. and the world, so there were times when my articles appeared as the top news stories on Google and Yahoo, and on the front page of newspapers. To give an example, an article I wrote about Hideki Matsui, in which I interviewed him alone in the locker room after a game, was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, a leading local newspaper. Therefore, I worked with a great sense of satisfaction, pride, and responsibility.
The articles he wrote as a reporter for the Associated Press were distributed to newspapers across the United States, sometimes on the front page.   
The articles he wrote as a reporter for the Associated Press were distributed to newspapers across the United States, sometimes on the front page.   
Q: So you were able to cover "Major League Baseball" while playing in the "Major League" of journalism yourself!
Maeda: Yes, I was fortunate to be able to stand on the very threshold and successfully graduate from graduate school. During the two years I was in graduate school, I worked four jobs, including AP and university jobs, so to be honest, I felt like I was working all the time rather than studying (laughs).
However, working was the best way for me to learn and experience things, so being able to work while going to graduate school was the best environment for me.

Trained as a reporter in major cities in the United States where his Spanish skill was useful 

At the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism commencement ceremony, 2004
At the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism commencement ceremony, 2004
Q: I see, that was ideal. What did you do after graduating from graduate school?
Maeda: I wanted to learn not only about California but also about other cities in the U.S., so I worked for a while as a reporter at a daily newspaper called "Newsday" published in the New York metropolitan area. I drove my old Toyota Corolla eastward across the continental United States, taking about a week to reach New York from California by car.
Q: Another road trip? This time it was east-west instead of north-south (laughs).
Maeda: That's right (laughs). This was because I was asked by a newspaper in New York to bring a car, as I would need one to cover the story there. In fact, I spent every day in New York chasing incidents and accidents, driving around Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and all over New York City. Before the police put up an emergency line, I would try to intercept the police radio and arrive at the scene before the police did. These were truly the days of a social affairs reporter.
After that, I moved to Gannett, the largest newspaper in the United States, and drove across the continent again (laughs) to work as a reporter in the beautiful desert city of Palm Springs in Southern California for about a year and a half. This area was just at a time when the population was growing due to the influx of wealthy Los Angeles residents and Hispanics. Business and architecture were booming, and I was able to cover many interesting topics while learning about American society and culture. Also, my Spanish was very useful when interviewing immigrants who did not speak English.

Decided to return to Japan, considering his identity

Reporting live Japanese news from the Reuters Tokyo bureau to an overseas TV station.     
Reporting live Japanese news from the Reuters Tokyo bureau to an overseas TV station.     
Q: So this is when your Spanish finally came in handy at work. So far, it seems that you have been building a successful career in the U.S., crossing both coasts, but then you decided to return to your home country. Why was that?
Maeda: I think it was indeed a successful career. However, after working as a reporter in Southern California for a while, I began to think deeply about my identity and role. I was born Japanese, and Japanese is my native language, but as a reporter immersed in American society, I rarely use Japanese. There are almost no advantages to being Japanese when working as a reporter in the U.S. I began to feel that I could make better use of my abilities and fulfill my mission in life by leaving this job to people born in the U.S. and doing more work that is related to Japan.
Q: I see. So that's why. What did you do after you returned to Japan?
Maeda: When I returned to Japan at the end of 2005, I joined Reuters, an international news agency based in London, and continued working in journalism as a TV news producer in the Tokyo bureau. Unlike my previous work as a newspaper reporter, this time I was working in the TV department, where I not only wrote articles and scripts, but also filmed and edited video footage. I even got in front of the camera myself to report in English. I was a correspondent for foreign broadcasters for news stories from Tokyo.

Turning into a TV reporter, which is different from a print reporter. 

Press credentials and interview passes from the Reuters days.
Press credentials and interview passes from the Reuters days.
Q: Why did you choose to work in television instead of being a newspaper reporter?
Maeda: Newspapers and television convey news in a different way, even though they are in the same news journalism category. I was often confused at first. However, as I started my own business, I have learned many things such as the impact of video, how easy it is to understand, and the importance of using visuals to communicate with people overseas who speak different languages.
Although I was based in Tokyo, I also covered international conferences, the Olympics, and disasters throughout Asia. I kept in touch with Reuters offices in Singapore and London, covering and distributing news from Japan and other Asian countries as part of world's top news.

Left journalism to become an entrepreneur at age 37

At the age of 37, he chose to start his own business.
At the age of 37, he chose to start his own business.
Q: So you have steadily built up a track record and career in journalism, but at the age of 37 you decided to become independent and start your own business. Why did you do this?
Maeda: First of all, I wanted to see how far I could go in a place which was not a major media outlet. I had a vague idea of starting my own business since I was in my 20s. When my child was born at the age of 37, I thought that now was the time to go independent, and the sooner I did it, the less risky it would be.
Q: At the time, the traditional media industry was changing with the rise of the Internet and social networks. Did this background have anything to do with it?
Maeda: There were several reasons but one of them is the doubts about the future of news agencies and newspapers. When I was working for international media as a Japanese, I wanted to travel the world as a correspondent or transfer to an overseas bureau, but the number of correspondents began to decrease with the times. To be honest, I had some doubts about how much more challenging work I could do in a huge company.

Journalism is changing and started to question objective reporting

From the Australian news program SBS Dateline.   
From the Australian news program SBS Dateline.   
Q: I see. Does that mean you were unable to be optimistic about the future of journalism?
Maeda: I think it was significant that journalism has changed with the times. It used to be a taboo for journalists to earn money other than their salaries and it was said that earning revenue was like a government employee taking a bribe. Until the 1990s, there was a time when the editorial department and the sales department were at odds with each other, and in fact, such a conflict was a sign of health. I entered the news business at that time, so I had a strong resistance to writing a puff piece and I often quarreled with sales people in my 20s, saying I would never write such things. I was being cocky.
However, in the mid-2000s, every American graduate school began teaching "entrepreneurial journalism”. In other words, if the media cannot stand still and make money on their own, they will not be able to secure revenue, and as a result, the media will go bankrupt and will not be able to operate anymore. In fact, local newspapers in the U.S., actually went under due to lack of revenue. In reality, journalism and news cannot survive unless they are able to earn money in some way.
Q: Are you saying that we are now in an era where journalists are thinking about profit models, which might have been a taboo in journalism?
Maeda: Until now, journalists were told that they should not make money, but that has completely changed. On the contrary, they are now told that they must earn money. I think that's how new concepts were born in journalism.
Q: I see. What is the impact on the media side when they start to think about profit models?
Maeda: Traditionally, journalism, especially at news agencies, had a strong idea of objective reporting. If there were two opinions, A and B, the basic form of reporting was to balance the two contrasting opinions and report without including the reporter's opinion. However, with the rise of online media in the 2000s and changes in various profit structures, subjective reporting, which had previously been a taboo, is now being encouraged.
However, the news agency to which I belonged had to be completely objective, at least on the surface, and I think that is what caused my hesitation. A news agency has to write articles that are used by all media, including right and left media, so objectivity is a prerequisite. But you can never be 100% objective. The moment a reporter makes a decision to cover or not to cover this news, it is not objective but subjective in some parts. Or who to interview and which part to use? These are also subjective decisions.

Personal documentary on the Great East Japan Earthquake was a turning point

From the Australian news program SBS Dateline.   
From the Australian news program SBS Dateline.   
Q: Amidst the changes in society and journalism, was it impossible to convey what you wanted to express at a news agency that insisted on objectivity?
Maeda: One turning point was when I made a personal documentary as a freelance journalist for the Australian Public Broadcasting Service after the Great East Japan Earthquake. At Reuters, I had been working objectively, without a first-person perspective, and without my own emotions. However, as I produced a personal documentary, it was very new for me to focus on personal events, such as my own family being shaken by the disaster and fear of radiation. I used first-person narrative and I received a great response. The part of the documentary where I am being scolded by my wife for leaving my family behind to cover the disaster site is still in the documentary (laughs).
Right before the Trump administration, the New York Times and other newspapers began to carry opinion pieces on their front pages. Even major media outlets, which used to be concerned with objectivity, are gradually moving in the direction of putting their subjective viewpoints in the forefront. I do not know whether this is good or bad, but I strongly feel that we have come to an era in which 100% objective reporting is impossible, and both the receiver and the sender must be aware of what is subjective and what is objective while coming to terms with the objective and subjective aspects of information.

In this age when everyone is sending out information, he wanted to help them with an app

In 2015, he was selected as a finalist at a startup pitch event in San Francisco (second from right).  
In 2015, he was selected as a finalist at a startup pitch event in San Francisco (second from right).  
Q: In that situation, you could have continued journalism writing subjective articles for newspapers or online media, but why did you choose to start your own business?
Maeda: I wanted to express myself firstly, but I also strongly felt that the time has come for everyone to send out information. I decided to create an application to help individuals transmit information.
Q: An application?
Maeda: Yes. When I was at a news agency, I used to deliver video news reports to the world, which until recently was usually impossible because of the high cost of cameras and editing equipment. But by then, equipment became lighter and more common, and I was doing everything from shooting to editing almost entirely on my own. I realized that anyone with a certain level of video skills and English proficiency could transmit information in the form of news reports like those broadcasted on TV news.
Q: It is true that cameras and editing equipment, which used to be broadcast equipment, are getting smaller and smaller, and it is becoming easier for individuals to purchase them.
Maeda: I am Japanese, but I am able to deliver news to the United States without joining an American TV station. Of course, in my case, I happened to be at Reuters, which is why my reports were delivered to the world but I thought that technically speaking, the time has come for anyone to easily send out information in English. In order to do so, I decided to create a system that would allow anyone to easily produce and distribute videos. For me, that mechanism was an app. I started developing it under the name Snapcast, and later pivoted to Reportr, then Colavi, and finally launched.

Conveying information via video and English is important for Japanese businesses

The video-generating application he developed was also used by major media outlets such as the Asahi Shimbun for multimedia coverage.     
The video-generating application he developed was also used by major media outlets such as the Asahi Shimbun for multimedia coverage.     
Q: You quit your job as a journalist and created an app that allows anyone to send out information but who exactly did you think should send out information?
Maeda: This was the main reason for starting the company, but I thought it would be very important for Japan and Japanese business to send out information in an English video in the future. As a reporter for a foreign news agency, I covered many companies in Japan, and what I strongly felt was that there were very few Japanese companies that were making effective videos or sending out information in foreign languages from the viewpoints of foreign viewers. I felt that it was a shame that so many companies with good ideas and products were missing out on opportunities for not knowing how to spread their messages. I am a person who originally had no knowledge of English or video, but now I am sending out information to the world. I want to offer the skills I have acquired widely and help Japan and Japanese companies spread information. The application was a combination of that desire.
Q: How did it turn out?
Maeda: I still think the idea itself was not bad, but I regret that I did not have enough knowledge, connections, and speed in terms of business models and fundraising, due to my sudden career change from journalism to business. The app was sold on the App Store and went well to some extent, but it was not significantly successful because we could not solve issues such as narrowing down the target users, monetization, and securing development resources.
Q: We now live in an age where people edit their own videos using only their cell phones on SNS, which is in line with your guess. Was it a little too early in the age for an app?
Maeda: We needed to update it to keep up with the times, but we ran out of engineering resources, so in 2016, we put the service on hold for a while. Looking back on it now, I think it had the potential to be like TikTok if we had done a little better (laughs). Maybe I was a little less playful. If I had more entrepreneurial sense and experience back then, it could have been a tool for making interesting, trendy short videos.
Q: What did you do after you took a break from creating an app with such potential? Did you make another application?
Maeda: At that time, I was so focused on business as an entrepreneur that I had abandoned journalism for a time. However, when I suspended the app service, I came up with the need to go back to my starting point, what is my identity? I felt the need to go back to my origins and identity.
ー Editor-in-Chief Maeda, who had enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, both in Japan and the U.S., also took a leap of faith and started his own business to create an app, which he tackled, but was put on hiatus without achieving the results he had hoped for.
In Part 3, the final article of this series, he will talk about why he took up journalism again, a field he once thought he had abandoned, how it feels to be a startup, which he understands only because he experienced it himself, his thoughts on J-STORIES, and his vision for the future!
(End of Part 2, to be continued in Part 3)
Translation and editing by Chika Osaka
Top page photo by Toshi Maeda
Click here for the Japanese version of the article
For inquiries about this article, please contact jstories@pacificbridge.jp
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