From its first story in 2017, Tansa, a Tokyo-based non-profit newsroom, has shown its intent to challenge Japan’s media orthodoxy.
Its first investigation, ‘Journalism for Sale’, uncovered documents that showed an advertising agency, working for a pharmaceutical company, had made undisclosed payments to a major Japanese news wire to publish favourable stories about their products.
Investigations into the tobacco industry, forced sterilisation and responses to the Fukushima nuclear disaster have followed.
While Tansa’s audience is small, it has built a positive reputation among fellow journalists overseas and has received plenty of attention from the people it investigates.
“Public figures are watching us, but watching us silently,” said reporter Nanami Nakagawa.
Japan’s investigative journalism leaders
Tansa, which means ‘investigate’, began publishing in 2017 as Waseda Chronicle, a project of the Waseda University Institute for Journalism.
In 2018, it broke away from the university and transitioned into an independent non-profit newsroom, focusing primarily on investigative journalism.
The same year it became the first Japanese member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN).
“Within Japan, we’re a unique organisation that sees ourselves as part of a much larger community,” said reporter Annelise Giseburt.
“Overseas journalists seem to value our work and think of us as compatriots and investigative journalists doing good work.”
Investigating Japan’s influence overseas
Cross-border collaborations are a key part of Tansa’s work, including as part of JNI’s Asian Stories project.
“One of the major benefits of having cross-border collaborations is that we’re able to dig much deeper in our investigations,” said Giseburt.
Tansa’s ‘Coal Crusades’ investigation saw it team up with KCIJ Newstapa, a South Korean non-profit news organisation, and Tempo, an Indonesian news organisation, to investigate Indonesian coal plants being built with Japanese support, even though the plants did not meet Japan’s pollution standards.
Independent and ad-free
To help maintain its editorial independence, Tansa does not run ads. It does not have a paywall either. So, how does it fund its work?
“We get support from foundations both in Japan and overseas,” said Giseburt.
“About half of our funding currently comes from foundations.”
“Another main revenue stream is reader donations, and this is the source of revenue that we want to grow most in the future.”
“Not only will it make our work possible and allow our team to grow, but it’s really symbolic of the relationship we want to have with our readers — that they support us, and we work for them.”