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Small Japanese paper reconnects with readers during earthquake disaster by handwriting its stories

When the March 2011 tsunami struck a great swathe of the northeast coast of Japan leaving 19,000 people dead or missing and triggering the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it also submerged the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun’s presses.

The 14,000-circulation paper had the biggest story of its 100-year existence right on its flooded doorstep, but no way of printing it.

So, its reporters did what monks in European monasteries did with the Bible in the Middle Ages and copied out their message to the people by hand. It is an example of an intimate relationship between newspapers and readers that has long eroded in the West and means that Japan’s print media have been less damaged by the havoc wreaked by new media, analysts say.

According to the World Association of Newspapers, Japan has the second-highest newspaper penetration of any country, with readership of paid

dailies at 92 percent of the population, behind only Iceland.  Japan has the planet’s three biggest-selling daily newspapers, it added, led by the Yomiuri Shimbun.   

The Yomiuri claims a monumental circulation of 13.5 million copies a day including its evening edition, and at 9.98 million, its morning edition alone sells more copies than all of Britain’s national dailies put together.

The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association told AFP that total daily sales averaged 48.35 million in 2011, down only 1.97 percent on the previous year.