International News Coverage in Local Japanese Newspapers


Hiromi Cho and Stephen Lacy

[WJMCR 2:2 March 1999]


Abstract|Introduction|Literature Review|Method|Results|Discussion


International news coverage accounted for slightly more than 7% of the news in 48 Japanese local newspapers during this six-month period, which was greater than the percentage found in earlier studies of U.S. newspapers. Although the majority of international news space was devoted to hard news, the proportion of conflict-oriented news was lower than found in studies of newspapers in the United States and other countries. International political news took up a smaller percentage of space than did social news, and only slightly more than international sports news. The Japanese newspapers are dependent on wire services for international news, but they seem to be less so than American newspapers. An important finding is that the morning and evening local Japanese newspapers differed significantly on the type of international news subjects they ran.


It has become almost a clich� to talk about the globalization of national economies. Governments around the world continue to lower barriers to trade and cultural exchanges among countries. As nations continue to become more interdependent, the news media will play an important role in the future education of world citizens and in international diplomacy.1 For example, Willnat, He and Xiaoming found that exposure to foreign media in three Asian cities affected people’s perspectives of Americans.2

Despite media’s important role, research about some elements of international information flow remains underdeveloped. The majority of such studies have examined the international news only in American newspapers. Studies of international news coverage in countries outside the United States are rare, and those that have been conducted used small samples.

This study aims to add to the body of literature about international news flow by studying international coverage in Japanese local newspapers. In addition, differences in coverage between morning and evening newspapers will be examined. Local Japanese newspapers were used here instead of national newspapers because the local papers are an unexplored area of newspapers in other countries and they are more comparable to the newspapers that most Americans read. Understanding international news flow requires the study of all types of newspapers that carry international news, not just national newspapers.

Literature Review

Scholarship about the flow of international news can be divided into efforts to describe the content of news media and efforts to understand the antecedents of the content. Studies about the antecedents of international news coverage have found a variety of factors. Cultural similarities, shared history and geographic proximity have been found to be related to international news coverage,3 as have ideological affinity,4 economic relationships,5 societal values,6 the nature of gatekeepers,7 and organizational factors.8

Two conclusions seem to emerge from these studies: First, international news flow and the nature of international coverage are contingent on several variables. Second, most of the research underlying our knowledge of international news flow has emphasized coverage by United States news media and not coverage by media in other countries. As a result, international news in other countries remains relatively unexplored.

As with all systematic research, establishing causality can only occur after the phenomena being studied are described accurately. This study aims to contribute to the description of international news flow in non-American newspapers by examining Japanese local newspapers.

Coverage in U.S. newspapers

Research about international coverage in U.S. newspapers has led to four conclusions. First, coverage emphasizes conflict and disasters.9 Masmoudi claimed that events in developing countries are distorted by the emphasis on crises by the mass media in those countries.10 Lacy, Chang and Lau used a national probability sample and found that while the majority of international news was not conflict-oriented, international news was twice as likely as domestic coverage to involve conflict.11

A second conclusion from research is that the bulk of foreign news focused primarily on political news. Wilhoit and Weaver examined foreign news coverage from wire services and found a strong tendency to concentrate on diplomatic/political relations.12 Riffe and Shaw concluded that the majority of coverage of the third world in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune during a 10-year period dealt with internal politics and international relationships.13

Third, international news tends to be hard news. Hart study found that three-fourths of foreign news in a newspaper was hard news. Of course, conflict and disaster news fits under this category.14

Finally, wire services are the main source of international news. A study by the International Press Institute15 found that news agencies are the primary source for most newspapers. Lacy, Chang, and Lau discovered a high correlation between the percentage of news space filled by wire copy and the percentage of news space allotted for international news.16

Newspaper content in other countries

Limited research has explored the content types of international news in other countries. However, the existing research is consistent with studies of American newspapers. Galtung and Ruge found Norwegian newspapers tended to emphasize conflicted-oriented news.17 Their conclusion was consistent with findings in a study of the London Times.18

A content analysis of six Arab dailies found a high preoccupation with political news.19 Another study concluded that too much emphasis in international news was on factual material and too little on interpretation.20Stevenson and Cole studied the data from 17 countries, not including Japan.21 They found that political news was the main focus of foreign news. Foreign news that dealt with politics accounted for 25% to 50% of foreign news in all 17 countries they studied. Economic and military coverage accounted for 10% of the total international news coverage.

Little research has been published about international news coverage in Japanese newspapers. However, two studies give some insight into the content of Japanese local newspapers. A study conducted by the Japan Editors and Publishers Association examined 29 newspapers in 14 countries including Japan and the United States during a week of October.22 Only two to three newspapers of each country were analyzed, but some results are important to consider. The average percentage of space devoted to international news coverage in Japanese newspapers was 19.2% compared to 10.7% for American newspapers, which had the lowest percentage among sampled countries. Among story types, the average percentage of international news that was hard news equaled 80.5% in American newspapers, while only 62% for national, metropolitan and local Japanese newspapers.

Another study pointed out the role of wire service in Japanese local newspapers.23 The study found most of the local newspapers in Japan depend largely on the Kyodo Wire Service. The Kyodo Wire Service is a union wire service organized by most of the newspapers in Japan, excluding a few national newspapers. One of Kyodo’s activities is delegating correspondents to important countries forming a network to cover international news. Considering these findings about Japanese local newspapers, the four characteristics of Western newspapers’ international news coverage do not necessarily apply to all non-Western papers. However, the sample was small and this hypothesis remains largely untested.

Publication cycles and content

Daily newspapers have traditionally been grouped as morning or evening papers. In America, large metropolitan areas have seen most evening newspapers close, but this trend has not been as prevalent with dailies in smaller cities and towns.24 Similarly, this trend has not been as prevalent in other countries, and variations in publication can be associated with product differentiation. Product differentiation involves differentiating the goods or services of one seller from those of any other sellers on any basis that is important to the buyer and that leads to a preference of goods.25 In the newspaper industry, distribution or publication times, production techniques, and audience types are chosen to differentiate products.26

The Japanese Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association27 suggests that evening papers need to differentiate themselves from morning papers to prosper. In the evening, this difference would aim at providing more entertainment and feature news than morning papers, which reflects the need for relaxation following the workday.

Little content analysis research has been published on the difference between morning and evening newspapers. Danielson and Adams examined the presidential campaign coverage of 1960 and found that the morning papers had more complete campaign coverage than the evening papers.28 They concluded the difference in the degree of completeness in coverage was related significantly to timeliness.

Lacy and Bernstein examined whether there was a difference in news and editorial space allocation between morning and afternoon newspapers in a randomly stratified sample of 114 U.S. newspapers.29 Of these, 42 were morning and all-day newspapers and 72 were evening papers. They found time of publication had little influence on the allocation of news space. The only difference that could be found between AM and PM newspapers was circulation. Most morning and all-day newspapers had large circulations while evening papers usually did not.

Research questions:

The research findings about international coverage suggest the following research hypotheses:

  1. International coverage in local Japanese daily newspapers will concentrate on conflict-oriented news.
  2. International coverage in local Japanese daily newspapers will concentrate on political news.
  3. International coverage in local Japanese daily newspapers will concentrate on hard news.
  4. Wire services will be the main source of international news in local Japanese daily newspapers.
  5. International coverage will differ for morning and evening newspapers.


Japanese daily newspapers fall into two groups: national newspapers that circulate throughout the country and local newspapers that circulate within the provinces. The local Japanese newspapers resemble American newspapers more closely than the national Japanese papers. Because local papers in both countries carry community, national and international news, the process of news selection at Japanese local dailies is more likely to parallel news selection at American dailies. In addition, little research has addressed the local Japanese dailies, or local newspapers in any country, despite the fact that they have as many subscribers as the national dailies.

This study used a randomly selected sample of 48 newspapers out of the 96 local Japanese papers. A constructed week of newspaper editions was randomly determined from January 1, 1995, to June 30, 1995. A constructed week was selected because advertisers’ and readers’ demand sets up cycles within a week, and such a sample avoids over-sampling Sunday or Saturdays, when large or small newsholes are usually published.30

In 1995, seventy Japanese newspaper companies were registered to the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association, excluding professional, business, special service dailies, sports, and foreign language newspapers. Among them, 26 newspaper companies published both morning and evening editions; 32 newspaper companies published only morning editions; and 12 newspaper companies published only evening editions.

Newspapers were classified using the categorization in the Zenkoku Shimbun Guide 1996, which is based on newspaper editions not newspaper companies. Thus, the population of this study was 96 newspapers in four strata: (1) morning newspapers whose companies publish two editions a day; (2) evening newspaper whose companies publish both morning and evening editions; (3) morning newspapers whose companies publish only a morning edition; and (4) evening newspapers whose companies publish only an evening edition. Using these four categories, proportionate stratified sampling was applied. The sample size for a stratum was proportional to the population size of the stratum.

The news sections were analyzed for both story topic (political, economic, social, sports, and other news) and story type (hard, soft, analysis, and other news). In addition, the amount of international news that was devoted to conflict-oriented news and wire services was also measured.

Category definitions

The following definitions were used to code the newspaper content:International News

: International news included information about events or issues that happened outside of Japan, as well as other world news regardless of the origin of the news. International stories were analyzed into two main categories: topic and type. Topics of international news included political, economic, social, sports, and other news. The types of international news were hard news, soft news, news analysis, and other news.

Political News: Political news included general politics, administration, policy, cabinet, legislation, budget, political party, diplomacy, foreign policy, treaty, pact, alliance, international conference, international cooperation, diplomatic relation, territory, international critics, deportation, exile, military affairs, war, invasion, coup d’etat, revolution, guerrillas, riot, dispute, and crusade.

Economic News: Economic news included general economics, including news about finance, currency, prices of commodities, enterprise, stock, investment, international income and expenditure, economic development, and international financial aid. Also, included were industrial activity, labor problems, enterprise management, merger, cooperation, product, commodity, inroads into foreign markets, imports and exports, trade and expenditure, and international trade fairs.

Social News: Social news included stories about population, household, poverty, immigration, refugees, welfare, local society, communication, human rights, discrimination, traffic, disaster, natural calamity, disaster prevention, crime, graft, trial, prevention of crime, destruction, pollution, and weather. It also included news about clothing, food, housing, leisure, travel, hobbies, marriage, recreation, consumer movements, custom, fashion, health, culture, art, religion, morality, ethics, education, and science technology.

Sports News: Sports news was international tournaments, sports events, and sports groups.

Hard News: Hard news was defined as serious, factual, and timely stories about important topics.

Soft News: Soft news referred to feature or human interest stories. Soft news was written primarily to entertain rather than inform and appeals to its readers’ emotions more than to their intellect.

Analysis News: Analysis was usually identified by its emphasis on interpretation, which was either labeled as analysis or obvious because of the length of the story.

Conflict News: Conflict news involved either physical or ideological conflict, disaster, or violence.

After the international news was identified, the space of the international news was recorded in square centimeters. Two coders coded the newspaper content. During the coding process, three randomly selected pages of three randomly selected newspapers were used for a reliability check at two different times. Scott’s Pi in the first result ranged from 83.61 to 100 in the first check and 100 for all categories in the second reliability check.

In testing the hypotheses, the term “concentrated” is required that more of the space was devoted to the hypothesized content category than to any of the other categories within the variable. For example, a paper concentrated on “political news” when that category had a higher percentage than economic, social or sports news categories.


Of the total news space in the 48 newspapers, an average of about 7% was devoted to international news coverage with the remainder given to domestic news. This was a higher percentage than found by Lacy and Bernstein (1988) in a national sample of 1984 U.S. newspapers, where the percentage of newshole given to international news varied from 4.4% in small-circulation papers to 6.5% in large-circulation newspapers.

Hypothesis 1 stated international coverage in local Japanese daily newspapers would concentrated on conflict-oriented news. Of the total international news space, conflict news represented 15.94%. At 95 percent confidence level, the mean of the population fell between 13.57% and 18.31%. The hypothesis was not supported.

Hypothesis 2 stated international news in local Japanese newspapers concentrated on political news. Data in Table 1 show that 47.1% of international news space concerned social news. Following social news, news dealing with politics, sports, economics, and other international topics represented (respectively) 21.37%, 17.47%, 13.07%, and about 1% of the total international news space. Although a notable portion was devoted to political reporting, the hypothesis was not supported.

Table 1. Descriptive Statistics of International News Coverage Topics.
Interval (95%)Political News4821.379.611.3918.65 – 24.09Economic News4813.075.14.7411.62 – 14.52Social News4847.1215.342.2142.78 – 51.46Sports News4817.479.121.3214.89 – 20.05Other Topic News48.961.20.17.62 – 1.30

Data in Table 2 test hypothesis 3, which states the international news in local Japanese newspapers would concentrate on hard news. More than half (57.2%) of the international news space was hard news. Soft news accounted for slightly less than 20% of the space. The hypothesis was supported.

Table 2. Descriptive Statistics of International News Coverage Types.
News TypeNMean
Interval (95%)Hard News4857.1513.401.9353.36 – 60.94Soft News4819.8112.801.8516.19 – 23.43Analysis News489.406.65.967.52 – 11.28Other Type News4813.648.661.2511.19 – 16.09

Hypothesis 4 stated wire services were the main source of international news in local Japanese newspapers. More than half of the international news space, 56.8%, came from wire services. The population mean fell between 52.7% and 60.9% at the 95 percent confidence level. The hypothesis was supported. In addition to the dominance of wire service news, it also is interesting that no Japanese local newspapers used more than two wire services, and all 48 newspapers used Kyodo. Only 12 out of 48 newspapers, 25%, used two wire services, The Kyodo and The Jiji Press.

Hypothesis 5 stated the morning and evening newspapers would differ in their international news coverage. On the basis of data in Table 3, the hypothesis is supported. Although there was no statistically significant difference between evening and morning newspapers in the total percentage of news devoted to international news, the difference in the distribution among the content categories was statistically significant.

Morning newspapers devoted more international coverage to international political coverage (25.3% to 15.35%) and international sports news (21.2% to 11.8%) than did the evening papers. The evening newspapers devoted 59.8% of their international space to social news compared to 38.8% devoted to social news by morning newspapers. There was no statistically significant difference between morning and evening papers in percentage of space devoted to economic news.

Table 3. T-Tests for Differences between Morning and Evening Newspapers.
VariableMorning Paper Mean (N=29)Evening Paper Mean (N=19)T-ValueTwo-
Tailed Sig.Total International News*7.31%6.67%.78.45Topic of Story
Political News25.31%15.35%4.0401International
Economic News13.80%11.95%1.23.23International
Social News38.79%59.83%-6.26.01International
Sports News21.19%11.80%4.01.01International
Other Topic News.91%1.03%-.33.75Type of Story
Hard News62.94%48.30%3.99.01International
Soft News12.90%30.36%-5.13.01International
Analysis News12.16%5.20%4.09.01International
Other Type News12.01%16.14%-1.64.11Conflict
Conflict-Oriented News19.95%9.82%5.07.01Wire News
International News from Wire Services61.11%50.18%2.49.02
* This is percentage of all news. Others are percentage of all international news.

The two publication cycles also differed in the type of stories they ran about international news. Morning papers devoted 62.9% of their international coverage to hard news, compared to 48.3% by evening papers. Morning paper gave more space to news analysis (12.16% to 5.2%) and less space to soft news (12.9% to 30.36%). The differences were statistically significant.

Consistent with the finding about hard news, morning newspaper devoted a statistically significant higher proportion of international news to conflicted-oriented stories (19.95%) than did evening newspapers (9.82%). A statistically significant higher proportion of the morning newspaper international news space was from wire services (61.11%) than was true for the evening papers (50.18%).


International news coverage influences the way people perceive the current economic and cultural globalization. However, few studies have examined international news flow in countries other than the United States. This study examined international news in 48 local daily Japanese newspapers to enhance knowledge about the flow of news into a nation that plays a central role in the developing global economy.

International news coverage accounted for slightly more than 7% of the news in Japanese local newspapers during this six-month period, which was greater than the percentage found in earlier studies of U.S. newspapers. The proportion of total newshole given international news was about the same in morning and evening newspapers.

Existing research about American newspapers and the small number of studies about countries other than Japan suggests that international news coverage emphasizes conflict, disasters and political news and comes mostly from wire services. The Japanese newspapers did not fit this profile exactly, although they did show some similarities with newspaper content examined in the earlier studies.

The local Japanese newspapers did allocate the majority of space to hard news and the wire services were the source for most of the international news. Even though the majority of international news space was devoted to hard news, the proportion of conflict-oriented news was lower than found in studies of newspapers in the United States and other countries. The percentage of space from wire services also was smaller than found in American newspapers.

Unlike newspapers used in earlier studies, the local Japanese newspapers did not concentrate their international news on political or conflict-oriented news. International political news took up a smaller percentage of space than did social news, and only slightly more than international sports news. Only about 15 percent of the international news space was conflict oriented.

An important finding is that the morning and evening local Japanese newspapers differed significantly in the type of international news subjects they ran. The morning papers ran more hard, conflict-oriented news than the evening newspapers, which were more entertainment oriented. The evening papers also ran a smaller proportion of international sports news and news analysis, and were less dependent on wire services for their news.

These findings are consistent with the product strategy suggested by the Japanese Publishers and Editors Association. The dailies in the two types of publication cycles used international news to differentiate themselves from each other. Each type appeals to the demands of people who read newspapers at different times of the day. These results suggest that the morning local Japanese newspapers are more similar to American newspapers than are the evening local dailies.

These finding have important implications for the study of international news flow into countries other than the United States. Although, the use of international news in Japanese local papers shared some similarity with newspapers used in earlier studies, they also had some notable differences. While the majority of the local Japanese papers’ international news was hard, it did not emphasize conflict and politics. The news tended to be more oriented toward social, sports and entertainment news.

These local Japanese newspapers shared one important similarity to American newspapers, the dependence on wire services for most of their international news. This dependence in smaller circulation American newspaper reflects a lack of monetary resources. Japan may have a similar situation. A notable difference between Japanese local newspapers and American papers is that Japanese newspapers depended on just two services.

The differences between these newspapers and those in previous studies might reflect the limited nature of the sample in the other studies. Most had fewer than half the newspapers studied here. Such a possibility suggests that research is needed with larger samples from several countries before we will understand the variation of international news flow across countries.

The finding that international news coverage differed between morning and evening newspapers indicates that variations within countries should be studied as well as variations across countries. If scholars are to understand the amount and types of international news people are exposed to, their sampling and analysis will need to become more sophisticated. Newspapers cannot be assumed to be homogeneous within any country. The level of consistency among types of papers must be established empirically.

Although this study explored a relatively large number of local Japanese newspapers, it is limited because they were only Japanese papers. It is obvious that additional research is needed, but that research should provide direct comparisons of international news coverage in several countries. Press systems develop to serve political and social systems, and if these systems vary, research must assume that the press systems may vary as well.

About the Authors:

Cho is a student the Mass Media Ph.D. Program at Michigan State University, and Lacy is a professor in the Michigan State School of Journalism. These data were collected as part of Cho’s master’s thesis in the MSU School of Journalism. Lacy can be reached by e-mail at

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