How Yahoo News dominates online news in Japan

It is a Japanese originality and a unique situation in the world: in the archipelago, Yahoo News is easily at the top of the most consulted information sites. 56% of Japanese respondents in the 2022 edition of Digital News Report published by the Reuters Institute of Journalism at the University of Oxford, say they use the site more than three times a week. By way of comparison, in France, Yahoo News ranks 9e position, far behind the information sites of the major television channels, the regional press or 20 minutes. An even more precise survey, conducted by sociologist Kimura Tadamasa, shows that Yahoo News is the first way to access information online, all generations combined. And therefore a major player in the construction of public opinion online. Yahoo News number 1 in Japan, it is a paradox in a country with a particularly dense media market, where the traditional media retain a central place in the production of information, and which includes powerful institutions such as public broadcaster NHK.

“Infomediary”

Yahoo News is accessible via the Internet portal, or via a dedicated Smartphone application, which is also well ahead of the usage rate: 63.5%, ahead of Smartnews (56.2%) and Google News (19.5%), according to a survey by the ICT Sōken research bureau.

Concretely, Yahoo News is an aggregator of articles, a site which gathers and synthesizes news coming from the outside, especially from information sites, scattered on the web. The majority of articles published come from media that have previously entered into a commercial agreement with the company. There are articles on diplomatic discussions between leaders, as well as the latest love affairs of a prominent celebrity, passing by a report on a natural disaster or an exclusive interview with a star of the baseball tournament of high school students.

6,000 articles online per day

The format of the page is reminiscent of that of Internet portals and search engines of the early 2000s. The headings are numerous, contrasting with the refined format of Google. On the left column, there is a set of services offered by Yahoo Japan such as its second-hand sales site Yahoo Auction, its online currency service PayPay, or the discussion forum of all kinds Chiebukuro.

The site publishes or reposts over 6,000 articles per day. But the main access to articles is through the Yahoo Topics insert (or “Yafutopi” in its contracted form in Japanese), a selection of eight subjects covering nine headings: news, economy, amusement (celebrities), sports, national news, international news, technology and science and local news. For the various media, the challenge is to imperatively appear in this window. In the newsrooms, meetings are specifically dedicated to proposals for subjects likely to access what looks like the front page of the platform.

The Yahoo Topics insert is the subject of intense competition between the media (screen capture).

The leading article in the News tab most often deals with a recent national or international political event. The last two, on the other hand, relate to the news of celebrities. Those in the middle evolve between these two poles, including news items. “The place given to articles that we know will be read and shared is obviously central, explains an executive from Yahoo News. But other news deserve to be highlighted, even if they are less popular themes. This is the case for the first item in the list. On this point, the editorial vision is no different from newspapers. We do not want to be satisfied with articles “kotatsu (teasers, Editor’s note) “.

On Youtube, a consultant explains “How to get published on Yahoo Topics” (screenshot).

The platform receives a little more than 7,500 articles from affiliated media every day, via a kind of news feed. After an initial automatic sorting, about a hundred are published in the Yahoo Topics insert, most of them in their entirety. Some media require that only the beginning of the article be accessible, reading the rest requiring a click to their own site.

Unlike other online platforms (notably the great national rival Smartnews), the final selection of articles is not entrusted to algorithms, but to editors, who are often former journalists from traditional media. Since 2011, Yahoo News recruits young graduates, a practice hitherto reserved for daily newspapers and television channels. The editorial department thus has about thirty people who take turns throughout the day in rotation to select and update the articles on the Yahoo Topics insert.

On closer inspection, an attentive reader will notice that the name of the original media only appears after clicking on the link. A less informed reader will be able to read the article completely without understanding that it comes from a traditional media. The reason ? All are renamed by Yahoo publishers, which Google does not.

The logo of the news agency Jiji appears at the top right.

This new editing of articles is essential for SEO and visibility on social networks, and perceived as added value compared to the original version. Maximum length of titles published by Yahoo: 15 characters. For the media that sell their articles, seeing their name mentioned nevertheless represents a visibility issue. “We have been aware of the problem for a long time, testifies a journalist. Yahoo makes as little effort as possible to highlight the origin of the articles, and the fact that we, the traditional media, write most of their content. On this, other platforms like MSN were more honest.

The turning point 2008 – 2012

The birth of Yahoo Topics dates back to April 1998, two years after the telecommunications magnate, Son Masayoshi, founded the Japanese subsidiary of the American company Yahoo. From the start, the platform set out to poach journalists from the mainstream media. Okumura Michihiro, editorial director of Yahoo News from 1998 to 2018, began his career at Yomiuri Shinbun, the main daily newspaper in the country. News gained prominence on the platform beginning in 2008, when Yahoo decides to include his Yahoo Topics window in the middle of his page.

The decision to install the Yahoo Topics insert in the center of the page, in 2008, was a strong editorial choice.

At the beginning of the 2000s, the media were especially worried about seeing Yahoo compete with them on the production of information. But the first decade finally passed in relative peace, thanks to an implicit division of labor between the production of information by the traditional media and the distribution by the platform.

At the time, Yahoo benefited from a low buy-back price for articles, as major media were slow to digitize and still kept significant revenues linked to readership loyalty, an efficient distribution system, and advertising. Their difficulties did not really begin from the mid-2010s, with the increasingly sharp decline in the traditional audience, the absence of generational renewal and the fall in advertising revenues. Only the Nihon Keizai Shinbunthe leading business daily, quickly made the decision not to offer its articles to the platform. Unsurprisingly, it is the one that has had the best success in its digital transition.

Gender scrambling

During the 2010s, the methods of producing articles evolved. Starting in 2012, the new Yahoo News service kojin offers articles written by specialists, at the request of Yahoo. Even if they are outsourced, this content remains an original production of the platform. The authors, generally specialized journalists, academics or renowned news commentators, benefit in return from the very high visibility offered by the platform.

The number of these contributions has continued to increase, while remaining largely insignificant compared to the volume of articles from the traditional media. But little by little, Yahoo News has strengthened its legitimacy in the Japanese media world, by installing a blur between its identity as news media and that of a platform.

Faced with a form of vampirization of their income, the traditional media are struggling to form a common front. Unlike the adoption of the neighboring right by the European Union in 2019, to date, the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association like the Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association them main trade unions of the leaders of the press and the private audiovisual sector – have still not managed to agree to renegotiate the position of the media they represent, vis-à-vis Yahoo.

Hate messages

This position of strength, however, hides a weak point: the difficult management of hate speech published by anonymous people in the comments of articles. Since the early 2000s and the appearance of the first online forums, the ” hate speech (term taken up by the Japanese) have become a real subject of society in Japan, regularly revived by tragedies such as the suicide, at the end of 2021, of a young wrestler victim of cyberbullying.

Most major media websites do not allow readers to comment on stories, except for theAsahi Shinbun who sorts them out. Yahoo News does just the opposite with its Yahoo Comment service. (diminutive ” yafukome “). Introduced in 2007, then supplemented with the addition of an “agree/disagree” function, this online commenting system is an integral part of the platform’s content visibility strategy: in addition to most read articles, the most commented articles appear in the Yahoo Topics window.

Filters

Average flow: 320,000 comments per day! The hateful comments soon surfaced. As early as 2014, Yahoo used artificial intelligence to quickly identify potentially problematic comments. Reinforced in 2018, this filtering system erases, every day, around 20,000 comments deemed problematic. Among these, inevitably, poorly filtered comments give rise to criticism, which relates in particular to the opacity of the selection criteria.

Unlike Yahoo, most mainstream media websites don’t allow readers to comment on articles (screenshot).

The latest major scandal, the publication of the announcement of Princess Mako’s marriage to a person who does not belong to the imperial family, in the fall of 2021. Faced with the profusion of hateful reactions to this news, the platform has pushed to take more radical initiatives. For example, by disabling the comment function of certain articles, when the messages left exceed a certain number. This is the case for 3.5 articles per day, Yahoo explained in January 2022.

Again, if the objective was to defuse criticism of its responsibility for problematic comments, Yahoo was quickly criticized for mainly targeting articles from people magazines. The company has just announced that from November 2022, users who wish to leave a comment will have to register their phone number.

clouds

Ransom of success, can the clouds that accumulate make the tech giant falter? Its position on the media market is almost monopolistic from the point of view of visibility. In addition to the problems of dealing with hate comments online, attempts to unite the mainstream media and take action by public authorities, modeled on recent initiatives in Europe and Australia, could quickly change the situation.

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How Yahoo News dominates online news in Japan


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