Newspapers in camp

The Japanese American "camp" press is one typical element that symbolizes the pseudo-democratic, paradoxical nature of the federal government's mass incarceration policy during World War II. On the one hand, government officials strove to create a "model community" in camp and permitted Japanese Americans to exercise their First Amendment right to freedom of the press. In both "assembly" and "relocation" camps, newspapers were written, edited, produced, and distributed by Japanese Americans themselves. On the other hand, camp officials could not resist imposing various restrictions on in-camp journalism. Despite its "democratic" appearance, the press behind barbed wire could not be literally "free" or "normal." (Hereafter, the terms "WCCA camps" and "WRA camps" are used to mean "assembly camps" and "relocation camps" respectively.)

Overview of Camp Newspapers

Japanese Americans were allowed to have their own news media in both temporary army-run Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) camps and the subsequent longer term camps operated by the civilian War Relocation Authority (WRA). The WCCA camp papers were mimeographed, written in English only, and published in all sites except for Mayer in Arizona. Meanwhile, all 10 WRA camps had both English- and Japanese-language papers. Only the ones at Manzanar , Minidoka , and Heart Mountain were printed (not all issues), while all the others were mimeographed.

Camp newspapers kept the incarcerated Nikkei informed of a variety of information, including administrative announcements, orders, events, vital statistics, news from other camps, and other necessary information concerning daily life in the camps. Camp papers, while put under editorial constraints as will be detailed later, published not only straight news, but also editorials, opinions, human-interest stories, and entertainment pieces such as sports news and literary works. Such reporting, as some scholars have pointed out, contributed to improving morale and reducing sentiments of isolation and boredom.

To present basic facts, the titles of WCCA camp newspapers and their duration of publication were as follows:

Fresno Center News (renamed Fresno Grapevine from the second issue dated May 27) (California): May 23 - October 17, 1942

Manzanar Free Press (California): April 11 - May 29, 1942

Marysville Arbo-Gram (California): May 23 - June 13, 1942

Merced Mercedian (California): June 9 - August 29, 1942

Pinedale Logger (California): May 23 - July 14, 1942

Pomona Center News (California): May 23 - August 15, 1942

Portland Evacuazette (Oregon): May 19 - August 25, 1942

Puyallup Camp Harmony News-Letter (Washington): May 5 - August 14, 1942

Sacramento Walerga Press (renamed Walerga Wasp from the second issue dated May 13) (California): May 9 - June 14, 1942

Salinas Village Crier (California): May 11 - June 28, 1942

Santa Anita Pacemaker (California): April 18 - October 7, 1942

Stockton El Joaquin (California): May 30 - September 28, 1942

Tanforan Totalizer (California): May 15 - September 12, 1942

Tulare News (California): May 6 - August 19, 1942

Turlock Fume (renamed TAC from the second issue dated June 12) (California): June 3 - July 17, 1942

Among the above 15 titles, only the Manzanar Free Press continued publication under the auspices of the WRA.

Newspapers published at the WRA camps and their duration of publication were as follows (excluding Japanese-language sections):

Gila News-Courier (Arizona): January 1, 1943 – September 5, 1945

Granada Pioneer (Colorado): October 28, 1942 – September 15, 1945

Heart Mountain Sentinel (Wyoming): October 24, 1942 – July 28, 1945

Jerome Communiqué (Arkansas): October 23, 1942 – February 26, 1943 (Renamed the Denson Tribune in March 1943)

Jerome Denson Tribune (Arkansas): March 2, 1943 – June 6, 1944

Manzanar Free Press (California): June 2, 1942 – October 19, 1945 (The inaugural issue was published on April 11, 1942 when the camp was still under the WCCA's control.)

Minidoka Irrigator (Idaho): September 10, 1942 – July 28, 1945

Poston Chronicle (Arizona): December 22, 1942 – October 23, 1945

Rohwer Outpost (Arkansas): October 24, 1942 – July 21, 1945

Topaz Times (Utah): September 17, 1942 – March 30, 1945

Tule Lake Tulean Dispatch (California): July 15, 1942 – November 13, 1943

Tule Lake Newell Star (California): March 9, 1944 – January 11, 1946 (The Newell Star replaced the Tulean Dispatch when Tule Lake was transformed into a "segregation center.")

In both WCCA and WRA camps, there existed a variety of smaller, more targeted publications such as school newsletters, church bulletins, literary periodicals, and even clandestine "underground" leaflet-type publications. Discussed in this entry, however, are only the camp-wide, general-interest newspapers listed above. Also excluded are the preliminary official news "bulletins," from which the inmates' newspapers evolved.

Despite its "democratic" appearance, the camp press in reality was hardly a "free" press. All newspapers were subject to some sort of editorial interference, in some cases even overt censorship. After all, the Nikkei were uprooted en masse and put behind barbed wire fences because they were deemed "potentially dangerous enemy aliens" merely on the ground of their racial ancestry. Ipso facto , it should have been rather inconsistent if camp authorities had not limited their press freedom all at.

Newspapers in the WCCA Camps

To begin with papers at WCCA camps, responsible officials of the WCCA, a civilian branch of the Western Defense Command and Fourth Army (WDC), routinely exercised military-style censorship. The WCCA's internal document titled "Report of Operations" dated June 2, 1942 describes the basic policies and procedures of censorship as follows:

1. The printing in Japanese of the news sheet or bulletin is prohibited.

2. The Public Relations representative of [each camp] is to edit and approve all copy of a proposed assembly center newspaper prior to its being mimeographed and released. This approved copy will be turned over to the center manager.

3. A check by the center manager, or his representative, is to be made of approved copy with the stencil, prior to mimeographing. Final check by the assembly center manager, or his representative, is to be made of the approved copy and the issue prior to its distribution. [1]

In addition to the above multi-layered censorship at each camp, the WCCA headquarters reviewed newspapers after publication.

Actual cases of censorship were recorded by many Japanese American staffers. For example, Charles Kikuchi , one of the founding editors of the Tanforan Totalizer , wrote in his diary that "[e]verything has to be read and 'ok-ed' by the front office. [One staff member] says that the administration is very sensitive about radicalism or unfavorable publicity...." [2] On one particular occasion, the Tanforan administration went so far as to suspend the Totalizer's publication per se.

Feeling it futile to resist censorship, staffers often exercised self-censorship, which made government press control even easier and more deep-rooted. Kikuchi once confessed in his diary that "we paint a bright picture of things inadvertently." Kikuchi also wrote that he and his colleagues avoided topics that could stir up arguments because "there is always the uncertainty of censorship on a controversial subject." [3]

The Nikkei staff of the Santa Anita Pacemaker underwent tight censorship, too. The chief editor Eddie Shimano wrote: "Since we are all under Army control here at the present time..., the paper acts mostly as an official information bulletin...." [4] An anonymous publication "The Evacuee Speaks: Newsletter" also pointed out: "Because of the rigid censorship of all news items, the emphasis must be placed upon, 'will the administrators accept this news story?,' rather than upon the more important and immediate task of maintaining the morale of center residents." [5] Like Kikuchi of Tanforan , Shimano later regretted that he might have painted camp life too brightly.

To present one extreme example of censorship, the August 1, 1942 issue of the Camp Harmony News-Letter at Puyallup , Washington, was published and distributed with some articles in inside pages artificially made unreadable. Doubtlessly a censor mutilated them after the stencil was cut. Despite such a bizarre layout with visible evidence of censorship, nowhere in that issue or later issues did the editors provide an explanation or excuse for it. One of the founding staffers of the News-Letter remembered that "[t]he newspaper was not too happy a job because there was a great deal of censorship." [6]

Newspapers in the WRA Camps

In contrast, newspapers published in the civilian-controlled WRA camps were immune from explicit "censorship" most of the time. From the beginning, the WRA declared that its core principle was to avoid military-style blatant "censorship" such as that performed by the WCCA. The WRA's "Tentative Policy Statement" of May 29, 1942 assured: "There will be no censorship by WRA of any written or published materials going into or out of projects, or circulating within the projects." [7]

However, the WRA's no-censorship policy did not necessarily mean that the agency would guarantee the absolute, unlimited freedom of the press within the camps. In fact, the WRA did exercise some moderate press control, calling it "supervision," which was comparatively less dictatorial and ruthless than the WCCA's full, rigid "censorship." The WRA's press supervision policy was officially formulated as "Administrative Instruction No.8" on October 10, 1942. It provided that Nikkei journalists shall enjoy "the maximum freedom of expression short of libel, personal attack, and other utterances contrary to the general welfare" and that "[t]he Project Director may suspend publication and distribution of the newspaper at the relocation center in the event of flagrant disregard of the responsibilities that accompany publication of a newspaper." [8]

Fundamentally, the aim of the WRA's press supervision was two-fold and contradictory in nature: achievement of "democracy" and adequate control of speech. By dissociating itself from a fascist method of press control, the WRA intended to publicize both nationally and internationally that the federal government was realizing "democracy" in Japanese American camps. At the same time, the agency intended to prevent camp papers from printing anything incompatible with its own policies. The press supervision was thought to meet the two conflicting purposes.

The WRA's "supervision" took various forms. Major methods included pre- and post-publication reviews, selective staff employment, convocation of "meetings," and supplying of news and propaganda material. Camp officials also elicited self-restraint from staffers, making strict measures unnecessary in most cases.

On occasion, however, the WRA exercised direct and coercive editorial intervention that officials themselves admitted to be "censorship." As spelled out in "Administrative Instruction No.8," camp authorities had sufficient power to crack down on writings of Japanese Americans that was actually invoked from time to time. The following statement of the Washington Reports Officer may best summarize the reality of the WRA's press "supervision." "It's all a matter of degree anyway, I suppose, and there is a way to impose censorship ... without making it seem like censorship and without stirring up too much resentment about it. It all depends on the way it's handled." [9]

At the bottom line, literally "free" practice of journalism could be neither realistic nor feasible in camps as long as newspaper staffers were technically government employees. Reporters and editors were classified as skilled and professional workers respectively and received monthly payments. The wage scale was set at $12 or $16 a month for assistants and reporters and $19 for top editors, although no labor was compulsory. Moreover, they were fed and housed by the federal government. They did not have to pay for light, heat, supplies, and all other equipment and necessities for publishing newspapers, either. Such total economic dependency could not possibly be compatible with free, critical journalism. Camp papers were, as another WRA staffer put it, "government-owned paper[s]" after all, no matter how "free" officials attempted to make them appear. [10]

Finally and parenthetically, Japanese Americans in the "internment camps" run by the Justice and War Departments were also allowed to publish their own newspapers, but they were probably put under even tighter control than their counterparts in WCCA and WRA camps. Major titles included the Santa Fe Times and Lordsburg Times in New Mexico and Crystal City Times in Texas. It is highly likely that camp officials imposed heavier restrictions on these newspapers in light of the fact that almost all residents in "internment camps" were Japanese nationals (or "enemy aliens") arrested by the FBI immediately after Pearl Harbor. No systematic study has ever been done on the subject, however.

Authored by Takeya Mizuno , Toyo University

For More Information

Fiset, Louis. Camp Harmony: Seattle's Japanese Americans and the Puyallup Assembly Center . Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Friedlander, Jay. "Journalism behind Barbed Wire, 1942-44: An Arkansas Relocation Center Newspaper." Journalism Quarterly 62 (Summer 1985): 243-246, 271.

Hosokawa, Bill. "The Sentinel Story." 63-73. In Remembering Heart Mountain: Essays on Japanese American Internment in Wyoming. Ed. Mike Mackey. Powell, WY: Western History Publications, 1998.

Kessler, Lauren. "Fettered Freedoms: The Journalism of World War II Japanese Internment Camps." Journalism History 15 (Summer/Autumn 1988): 70-79.

Kikuchi, Charles. The Kikuchi Diary: Chronicle from an American Concentration Camp: The Tanforan Journals of Charles Kikuchi. Ed.  John Modell. Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1973.

Mizuno, Takeya. "The Creation of the 'Free' Press in Japanese American Camps: The War Relocation Authority's Planning and Making of the Camp Newspaper Policy." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 78 (Autumn 2001): 503-518.

---. "Journalism under Military Guards and Searchlights: Newspaper Censorship at Japanese American Assembly Camps during World War II." Journalism History 29 (Fall 2003): 98-106.

---. "Censorship in a Different Name: Press 'Supervision' in Wartime Japanese American Camps 1942-1943." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 88 (Spring 2011): 121-141.

Shimada, Noriko. Nikkei Americajin no Taiheiyo Senso [The Pacific War of Japanese Americans]. Tokyo: Liber Press, 1995.

Stevens, John. "From behind Barbed Wire: Freedom of the Press in World War II Japanese Centers." Journalism Quarterly 48 (Summer 1971): 279-287.


  1. WCCA, "Planning Branch Report of Operations for the Secretary of War," June 2, 1942, RG 338, Entry 2, Box 48, File 319.1, National Archives at College Park.
  2. Charles Kikuchi, The Kikuchi Diary: Chronicle from an American Concentration Camp: The Tanforan Journals of Charles Kikuchi , ed. John Modell (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973), 78.
  3. Kikuchi, The Kikuchi Diary , 156, 201.
  4. Eddie Shimano, Chief Editor, Santa Anita Pacemaker , to Bradford Smith, Foreign Language Division, Office of Facts and Figures, May 1, 1942, Records of the War Relocation Authority 1942-1946: Field Basic Documentation Located at the National Archives, Washington, D.C. (microfilm), Reel 1, File Pacemaker.
  5. "The Evacuee Speaks: Newsletter," September 15, 1942, Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Records, BANC MSS 67/14c, Reel 83, File T5.097, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
  6. Cited in Dorothy Swaine Thomas, The Salvage: Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1952), 334.
  7. WRA, "War Relocation Authority Tentative Policy Statement," May 29, 1942, Papers of the U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Part 1: Numerical File Archive, Reel 14, Box 15.
  8. WRA, "Administrative Instruction No.8," October 10, 1942, RG 210, Entry 16, Box 429, File 69,033, National Archives at Washington, D.C.
  9. Oscar J. Buttedahl, Reports Officer, WRA, to John C. Baker, Chief, Office of Reports, WRA, "The Work of the Reports Office at the Minidoka Project," February 18, 1943, Records of the War Relocation Authority 1942-1946: Field Basic Documentation Located at the National Archives, Washington, D.C. (microfilm), Reel 88, File Miscellaneous Reports.
  10. Firman H. Brown, Acting Project Director, Gila River Relocation Center, to B. Black and Sons, Los Angeles, March 15, 1943, RG 210, Entry 48, Gila River Relocation Center, Central Files, Box 144, File 572 (Newspapers), National Archives at Washington, D.C.

Last updated March 17, 2024, 4:12 a.m..