Some base papers in Far East going online-only amid budget cuts
This week, for the last time, Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station residents will be able to pick up a copy of the weekly base newspaper the Torii Teller.
Beginning Oct. 1, due to budget cuts across the air station, the paper will exist solely online, said spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton.
The change follows a trend at bases across the region. The Sasebo Soundings paper from Sasebo Naval Base also will transform to an online version starting in October.
Camp Zama, near Tokyo, cut its weekly paper this summer from 16 pages to four. In 2004, the Skywriter at Naval Air Facility Atsugi near Tokyo disappeared from newsstands for six months due to budget shortfalls.
At Iwakuni, the public affairs office will replace the paper with a weekly e-mail newsletter and a Web site with stories and other command information that will be updated daily, Upton said.
As a result, more readers, including those in other geographic areas, will be able to see stories, classified listings and other information more quickly, he said.
Upton decided to cut the paper after losing 25 percent of his budget for fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1 — a loss faced by all departments on base due to the costs of Marine Corps operations throughout the world, he said.
The paper’s $35,000 annual cost ate most of the department’s previous $43,000 budget, now down to more than $32,000, he said, adding that the change will let him restructure his staff and disseminate news faster.
“I want to focus my Marines on something I believe is the future,” he said. Correspondents will produce stories daily for the Web, rather than weekly for the paper, which gives them more industry-standard skills, he said.
It also lets the command provide stories more quickly for news services and frees money for equipment such as new cameras and computers, he said.
Not all commands in Japan are feeling the pinch. Air Force officials at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo hope to expand the weekly eight-page paper to 12 or even 16 pages, said Yokota spokesman Capt. Dave Westover.
Yokota contracts its Fuji Flyer to a Japanese firm that sells ads to cover costs, so the paper is free to the command.
Upton said he still is deciding how Iwakuni’s weekly newsletter will be distributed but added that everyone on base has access to the Internet, at home or at several centers on base. And industry analysts say people in the base’s age group — the average age is 24 — tend not to be heavy newspaper readers, Upton said.
Still, at least one reader who prefers the original paper has complained, he said.
Atsugi leaders found the same sentiment.
“Our community prefers the hard copy,” said Atsugi spokesman Brian Naranjo. When the Skywriter ceased printing for six months, the staff continued producing an online version e-mailed to anyone who requested it. Circulation during that time dropped to about a tenth of the usual 3,000 readers, Naranjo said.
He said the paper provides more than command information to the small, close-knit base, so the commands worked to revive the print version.
“It’s not my paper, or the command’s. This paper belongs to the community,” Naranjo said. “When you have a smaller command, you have a lot of opportunity for feedback. … People still like to take something with them that they can read.”