The new Freedom of the Press Committee is already well along in its first project to improve the news gathering environment for working journalists at the FCCJ. We are building a Journalist Information Service to better inform our members about media events of interest in the Kanto region.

One way that many foreign journalists are excluded from media events in Japan is that we are not informed about them until after they have occurred. There have been many occasions when I saw a report on Japanese television about an event that I would loved to have covered had I only known about it.

With persistence and experience, many foreign journalists do begin to adapt, eventually missing fewer of the events that they want to cover. But it is still a daily struggle to keep well informed, to know where to be and when to be there, especially as the only journalists being directly tipped to many key events belong to the traditional Japanese press clubs.

To some degree, it will always be the job of individual journalists to discover and cultivate their own sources, but the Journalist Information Service now being fashioned is meant to ensure that the FCCJ becomes a crucial artery through which foreign journalists can gain the information they need to do their jobs more effectively.

Keeping abreast of media events in the vast Kanto region is a full time job (and then some), so the FCCJ has assigned staff to carry out the work under the guidance of the Freedom of the Press Committee.

The inaugural team leader is Akira Yokota, a longtime staff member at the Club. Yokota is a Tokyo native who went to high school in Saitama Prefecture and joined the FCCJ as an F&B staff member in the mid 1980s. In his almost 30 years of service at our club, he has functioned as a bartender, as dining room staff, in the food procurement section and in operations and banquet planning.

Obviously, Yokota was among those FCCJ staff members who were most directly impacted by the decision to outsource our F&B operations. He now works in the Club Office on the 19th floor and had been looking for an important new role to play as the FCCJ changes its structure.

In a way, Yokota is a metaphor for the FCCJ as a whole. Long accustomed to engaging in certain kinds of functions, we are now branching out into new fields in line with our aim to strengthen the public service dimensions of the Club. These are welcome changes, but ones that require us to retool for new missions in an unsleeping electronic era.

Yokota and his small team are calling various organizations, making contacts with press officers, building databases of useful information for journalists. The early stages will by necessity be slow and careful as their training commences and their confidence builds. But the spirit of engaging in an important new enterprise is already beginning to take hold.

FCCJ Members should be able to participate in the Journalist Information Service in a matter of weeks. We already have a prototype version based upon a limited email list functioning now. Once we feel it is ready for wider scrutiny, interested FCCJ Regular Members will be able to sign up to receive the service directly.

This email service will be ultimately be complemented by functions built into the new FCCJ website, though we are still hammering out some of the key policies about technical capabilities, information security and practical management.

Challenges remain, but Yokota believes “there is a new wind blowing at the FCCJ.” Our task now is to ensure that this new wind takes us to a place where every foreign journalist in Tokyo wants to join us.

Michael Penn is president of the Shingetsu News Agency and chairman of the Freedom of the Press Committee