Analyzing The New York Times and Their Coverage of Olympic Skateboarding in Japan

I chose “Japan’s Skateboarders Roll, Warily, Out of the Shadows” written by John Branch and photographed by Chang W. Lee.  This article tells a story of Japan’s attitudes towards skateboarding and how it’s changing as the Olympics draw nearer. It’s told mostly from the perspective of Japan’s Olympic Skateboarding head coach, Daisuke Hayakawa. There are some quotes from other skateboarders, artists and a skateshop owner. There is only one hyperlink in the entire story, that brings the user to a different New York Times article about skateboarding culture in Japan as the Olympics approaches. This doesn’t detract or add to the article, though. This is a human story, it’s about skateboarders and their experiences as outsiders and rebels in a culture that highly values conformity and union.

There are a fair amount of sources, all skateboarders, but none from the actual Japanese Olympic skateboarding team. I think it would have been really valuable to get Yuto Horigome, one of Japan’s only skateboarders competing in the street competition. Especially, as he is ranked 8th in street competition globally. His perspective might be different as he is going to actively competing.

Hayakawa, shows himself to be a source that is very respectful of others around him. The story begins by explaining how Hayakawa carries his skateboard with him, without riding it at all, on a trek to his regular skate spot near the river. This is because he wants to be respectful of the people around him. However, he also explains at the end of the story that the counterculture of skateboarding is the real skateboarding. The story doesn’t particularly dive into what the counterculture of skateboarding in Japan actually looks like.

One of the biggest, and for me one of the most representative of skateboarding its core, skate groups in the world is the Osaka Daggers. The Osaka Daggers is a group of skateboarders in Osaka that skateboard at night and throughout the city without the same careful assimilation that Hayakawa personifies.

All of this adds up to an image that is supposed to show how Japanese culture views skateboarding and skateboarding’s reaction to it, but doesn’t quite show everything. I don’t think that this is necessarily the reporter’s or photographer’s fault though. Branch seems to be a successful and reliable extreme sports reporter. He won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for “Snow Fall.” Lee, the photographer, was a member of the staff that won two 2002 Pulitzer Prizes. These journalists may have not had the same access to individuals like Horigome or the members of the Osaka Daggers that others have had. Horigome is a full time professional skateboarder who may not have been available during the time this story was being reported. And the Osaka Daggers were in a completely different city.

I didn’t see any biases or pervasive tactics in the article. It seemed mostly like a regurgitation of information that was given to someone who doesn’t know much about skateboarding. I think the reporter and photographer told the story as they saw it, from the outside in. As a skateboarder and photographer, I can tell that the photographer doesn’t have much experience shooting skateboarding. His photos of the tricks, while interesting to look at, don’t capture them the same way a skateboarding photographer would.

Overall I would give both the reporter and the photographer a B. They were as transparent as they could’ve been without publishing interview transcripts. They each did their best to tell the story they were told with limited experience in the field and limited knowledge of the culture.