How can we offer millennials more engaging ways to consume international news in Japan?

The smell was getting stronger and I couldn’t open my eyes. I heard someone screaming. “Help me, Help me…”

It was September 2014. I was in the middle of the pro-democracy movement called the “Umbrella Revolution” in Hong Kong, covering the story as a TV producer from Japan. We were being gassed by the police. The movement was led by very young students — ages 17 to 23 — demanding the right to vote.

“Umbrella Revolution” in Hong Kong. 200,000 people took part in this movement at its peak in September, 2014.

I was amazed by their fearless acts at such a young age, despite the risk of intense pressure from the Chinese government. I wanted to show Japanese youth what their counterparts in Hong Kong were fighting for, because political apathy is very high in Japan in contrast to Hong Kong.

My series of news reports elicited a flood of responses, particularly among Japanese teenagers inspired by the youth of Hong Kong. They were also surprised at the Chinese demand for the right to vote. Many lamented taking for granted their own rights as citizens of democratic Japan.

It was quite unusual for me to get direct messages from young viewers because they tend to spend less time watching TV, preferring to use mobile. Japanese youth in their 20s spend 15 percent more time on mobile device than on watching TV, according to an annual report by the government. Those in their teens spend 17 percent more time on mobile devices. The news consumption habits of Japanese youth is changing.

The best device for getting actual news to Japanese youth in their 20s is by mobile phone. 63.5 percent of them use mobile devices, while only 32.9 percent watch television.

During my year as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford I explored how journalists can offer millennials in Japan more engaging ways to connect with international news on mobile devices. How can we offer them more ways to explore the world we live in?

I conducted an online survey on news consumption behavior with about 50 millennials in Japan. Some 56 percent responded that international issues are “somewhat important” to them. Even though more than half said they understood the importance of knowing international issues, they gave many reasons why it’s not easy for them to keep up with the news. What I mostly heard was, “It’s too far away and the topics don’t feel relevant to my life.”

So I wondered: What could make news more relevant to them?

Stanford is known for many things, and one of them in recent years is the d.school, which promotes a process of “design thinking” to focus on human-centered design. I applied design thinking methods to my challenge in order to identify consumer needs, make a fast prototype, test it with users and improve it. The most critical phase is “fast prototype and test.”

This summer, I’m conducting a design-thinking session with about 20 participants in Palo Alto later this month, to test out another prototype. With each iteration, I feel I am closer to my goal.

My JSK Fellowship year at Stanford has come to an end, but my passion for engaging the next generation of Japanese in the issues of the world continues.


YooHee Hong is a video and TV journalist, most recently as a reporter and producer for TV Tokyo. Previously she was a network correspondent in New York, reporting on information technology startups and tech innovations. She was a 2017 JSK Fellow at Stanford.