By Mia Nakaji Monnier
It’s been a while since we at The Rafu Shimpo have given as much coverage to an event as we have to Keiro’s proposed sale of its facilities. Since my partner from the Japanese section, Nao Nakanishi, and I began writing about Keiro a couple months ago, we’ve done some unusual things: coordinating our coverage in English and Japanese, using a double byline, and writing in styles that don’t usually appear in The Rafu. Since we’ll be covering Keiro for the next few months, I wanted to step back and explain a little more about our process and where we’re coming from as writers.
Although The Rafu is a bilingual newspaper, our English and Japanese sections operate independently, for the most part. We have separate reporters, separate policies, and completely separate office cultures, though our desks are in the same room. Nao and I are each the newest reporter in our section, and when Nao came on staff this year, we began looking for ways to work together. Nao started investigating the Keiro story first, and I joined her a couple of weeks later when I translated her reporting into English.
Since then, our partnership has evolved. We now research together, discuss how to structure our stories, and ultimately each write an article in our native language. Although we try to include the same information at the same time, our stories are not identical; space limitations and separate section deadlines sometimes affect our schedule. On top of that, our different backgrounds mean we approach our writing with different styles.
Our coverage of Thursday’s open meeting with the community is a good example. Because of our Japanese section’s preferred style and Nao’s background, her story was more of a straightforward news report. Nao graduated from the Master’s program in Public Policy and Management at USC in 2015, after eight years as a news reporter at NHK in Japan.
My background, meanwhile, is in “creative nonfiction,” which I studied in the Master of Professional Writing program at USC and now write not just for The Rafu, but also as a freelancer for places like The Boston Globe and The Rumpus. I’m especially interested in reported essays, like the piece I wrote in response to the Rago auction controversy in April, and narrative journalism, which brings to reporting the kind of storytelling techniques you would find in fiction, like description, dialogue, and scene-setting. Narrative journalism is more common in magazines than in newspapers, but I’m grateful that my editor, Gwen Muranaka, has been supportive of my using this form at The Rafu when it seems appropriate for the story.
I realize that creative nonfiction sounds like a scary concept when applied to journalism, but it does not mean taking creative liberties with facts. Reporting this way requires just as much research and due diligence as does straight reporting, but it’s especially useful for engaging readers and, hopefully, for revealing deeper questions below the surface of an event. There are so many of those deeper questions in this Keiro story, too. How do we best address the difficulties of aging as the healthcare industry changes? How long can an institution last in its original form? How does a small community setting amplify the public’s expectations of its businesses, and to what extent are businesses obligated to fulfill these expectations?
As a writer, it’s these questions I care about most, not choosing a side in a debate. At Thursday’s meeting, I felt no clear allegiance to either Keiro or the protesters, but I felt so much empathy for individuals on both sides. I bristled when I heard the two speakers who weren’t members of the protest group, Jack Kurihara and Ken Hayashi, be called Keiro “plants,” as if it were offensive for them to have a moderate opinion. I admired doctors Takeshi Matsumoto and Kenji Irie for their gentle resistance. I felt for Pacifica and Aspen representatives, Tyler Verdieck and Ryan Case, who looked out of their element in a community I know often has a very specific view of what it means to be an “insider,” one that doesn’t even include all Japanese Americans. (When JANM CEO Greg Kimura, a hapa from Alaska, arrived in Little Tokyo, I remember hearing him called an “outsider” repeatedly and wondering what, then, his detractors would think of me, a hapa most recently from Vermont and Texas.)
So what does this have to do with describing someone’s socks, their posture, or the way they pronounce a word? In real life, these details all affect the way we receive a person’s message. For that reason, I believe they have value in journalism too—not in every story, and not for every outlet, but for an event like Thursday’s meeting, which was so much about the people involved, it felt particularly important to paint a picture about what it was like to be in that auditorium. I included Pacifica and Aspen representatives’ race not out of any kind of spite but because it was strikingly obvious that night, and because cultural difference plays a major part in the Keiro story.
Earlier this month, I reached out to a Japanese American reporter at the L.A. Times to ask if she might be able to cover the Keiro sale as well. She expressed interest, but because her grandmother is a resident at the Keiro retirement home, which the Times considered a conflict of interest, she couldn’t pick up the story. The concept of conflicts of interest is fascinating to me because they’re inescapable at The Rafu Shimpo. Most of the major Japanese American institutions advertise with us, and we’re friends with their employees and clients. As this Keiro story unfolds, it’s important to remember that some members of Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro grew up with members of the Keiro leadership. Some even have a doctor-patient relationship. The Keiro communications director and I both previously worked at JANM (though not at the same time), so last week, we were both copied in a mutual friend’s birth announcement. These ties make reporting a community controversy particularly murky and difficult. And in my writing, I want to acknowledge that.
Keiro expects its sale to close in early 2016, so whatever happens, Nao and I will be covering this story at least until then. Now that some of the dust has settled after Thursday’s meeting, we hope to begin focusing more on some of the larger-scale issues at play, like Japanese-Japanese American divides within the community and how other niche senior homes are dealing with changes in healthcare policy. We know this issue is important to the community, and we plan to report it with care.
Mia Nakaji Monnier is The Rafu Shimpo’s Online Editor. “Ochazuke” is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.