Photo/IllutrationToshio Hara in June 2011 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Japanese newspaper copy editors are called "desuku" (desk) for occupying a newsroom desk where stories, filed by reporters, are edited and readied for publication.

Theirs is a high-pressure job that requires endless decisions on matters such as what specific coverage instructions to give to reporters and what story should go on the front page.

During my own three-year stint in this capacity, I felt totally drained by the time the paper was put to bed in the wee hours.

One book I devoured back then was "Desuku Nikki" (Desk diary) authored by Toshio Hara, a Kyodo News copy editor in the 1960s, who published it under the pen name of Jiro Kowada.

Whenever a reporter used the expression "waga kuni" (our nation), Hara changed it to "Nippon" (Japan).

"So long as you say 'our nation' or 'our military,' objective reporting is impossible," he noted.

He took a dig at an executive editor who could not determine the importance of a news item and kept checking anxiously how competitor news organizations were treating it.

And Hara admitted to his own insensitivity of hoping for an accident because he wanted to run a prepared story on accidental deaths hitting a record in Japan.

Hara died on Nov. 30 at age 92.

His life as a diarist stretched longer than his years with Kyodo. Recalling his days in the naval paymasters' school, he wrote, "From the day of my enrollment to the end of World War II, I was beaten 2,000 times in 11 months."

Aspiring for a society that permits free speech, he became a journalist.

Hara continued to pen his column, "Henshu Kyokucho Nikki" (Diary of managing editor) after rising to an executive position, but had to discontinue it after one month due to his tight schedule.

But even after his retirement from Kyodo in 1992, Hara kept writing about journalism, calling for "more substantial investigative journalism" and insisting that editorials be by-lined.

"Do not let yourself be influenced by the fact that you are a corporate employee," he cautioned. "If you are a journalist, always strive to remain critical of those who are in positions of power in society."

That was the basic theme of his many publications.

I believe he departed from this life wishing, if he were to be reborn, to keep giving his all to his calling as a copy editor.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 8

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.