Faraway friends

Published 9:48 am Monday, November 5, 2018

AHOSKIE – It’s not every day that someone travels halfway around the world to simply meet someone. But the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald hosted a special visitor who did just that last week.

Hideomi Kinoshita, longtime writer for Japan’s Kyodo News, traveled from Tokyo to interview several people for a feature story he was working on about small local newspapers. He was accompanied by Chiaki Kawajiri, a Kyodo News photographer based in Baltimore, MD.

Kyodo News is a Japanese news agency similar to the Associated Press in America. Their articles are distributed to various news outlets across the Japan. Kinoshita connected to the News Herald through a Murfreesboro native, Crystal Styron, who now lives and works in Tokyo. She suggested her area of rural North Carolina as an interesting subject for Kinoshita to cover.

Kinoshita said he wanted to focus on how local newspapers sustain democracy while also dealing with the struggles of the industry. With the News Herald’s recent decision to switch from three editions per week to

Hideomi Kinoshita (seated), a veteran reporter for the Kyodo News in Japan, was joined by photographer and colleague Chiaki Kawajiri during their visit to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald office. | Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

two, the small local paper was a good subject to examine. Kinoshita said he read News Herald Editor Cal Bryant’s recent editorial explaining the decision behind the change, and he thought the commitment to continuing local news coverage was admirable.

“The Japanese readers should know what’s going on in the local level, not just the national level,” Kinoshita explained, acknowledging that while national newspapers in Japan were still thriving, small local papers were facing similar problems as their American counterparts.

“Some of them are on the edge because circulation is getting low and advertisement is not so strong right now,” he continued. “It’s a very critical moment for newspapers, so we should follow what’s going on in the United States, and we should compare notes on how to survive and what kind of shape the future models will take. That’s very important, I think.”

The topic of newspapers is not unfamiliar to Kinoshita who has a decades-long distinguished career in journalism.

Kinoshita, who was born in a rural area of central Japan, joined Kyodo News after his college graduation. Since then, he’s covered numerous topics in different areas of Japan over the years. But a large part of his career has been focused on writing about politics, including covering several different Japanese prime ministers. He often had to travel with Japan’s top government leader across the country and abroad when necessary.

“Japanese politics is like a rollercoaster,” he admitted with a laugh.

Twice in his career, Kinoshita has also been stationed in Washington, DC to cover American politics. He said he still clearly recalls his first stint in the capital city began two days before President George W. Bush declared war against Iraq in March 2003. At that time, he was assigned to writing stories about what happened on a daily basis at the Pentagon.

He returned again in 2012 for a five-year assignment as Kyodo News’ Washington Bureau Chief.

With his experience in politics, Kinoshita said he’s observed the gap between conservatives and liberals widen in Japanese and American media, as well as in other countries around the world.

“One of the main important roles for the papers to sustain democracy,” he explained, “is that we should close the gap, narrow the gap between the right and left.” 

During his visit to Hertford County, Kinoshita interviewed several News Herald employees as well as a few subscribers and some local politicians. Kawajiri took photos of the interview subjects as well as the newspaper’s office.

Kawajiri, who previously worked for the LA Times and the Baltimore Sun, said it felt a bit nostalgic to be in a newsroom again, even if the News Herald’s office is much smaller by comparison. She said she’s seen her previous newspapers struggle to adapt to the changing times.

“I thought it was wonderful to hear you have the leadership that really want to keep it going,” she said of the News Herald. “I hope this place goes on for another 100 more years.”

The photographer also said she enjoyed visiting Ahoskie and Murfreesboro, noting the people she encountered were all very friendly and helpful. Kinoshita agreed that his experience visiting North Carolina was nice and enjoyable.

Kinoshita’s article is expected to be published in Japan in early November.