American Pie 01.07.04

The latest scandal to roil the American newspaper business – charges that some papers have consistently inflated their circulation figures – is undermining the confidence of many advertisers. Some are demanding a stricter accounting of circulation figures, and others are threatening law suits. The newspapers accused of doctoring their figures are among the largest in the country: the Chicago Sun-Times, Newsday, the suburban New York daily owned by the Chicago Tribune Co., and Hoy, the leading Spanish-language daily. Newsday and Hoy have admitted their circulation figures for last year were inflated by at least 19 per cent. The Chicago Sun-Times, which is owned by Hollinger, has admitted it has been inflating its figures for years – but has not said by how much. Some papers could face criminal charges. In New York, the district attorney has ordered an investigation into the pumping up of Newsday’s figures. Meanwhile, the New York Post, always eager to needle its competitors, is demanding an official auditing of all New York’s newspapers.

Cutbacks are coming. After 2001 proved to be one of the worst years in advertising for 50 years, there was a belief the industry had turned the corner. Reports of a recovery were, however, over-optimistic. Pressure on big newspaper chains from investors has resulted in an increase in ad rates, the reduction of newsprint consumption and now lay-offs. The Los Angeles Times, which earlier this year won an unprecedented five Pulitzer prizes, is expected to cut staff numbers soon. This is part of a growing trend. A new study by a group called The Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that since 1990 the number of full-time editorial employees in the newspaper business has dropped by 2,200.

It was a shock cover for New York Magazine – a picture of a model walking down New York’s famous Park Avenue in the nude, albeit with little yellow stickers reading “Carefree summer” over the strategic parts. The magazine insists the nude photoshoot was legal – and that the only problem was passers-by taking pictures of the model with their mobile phones. The nude cover ran only on copies that went out to subscribers, with news-stand copies featuring a headshot of stubble-chinned film actor Ethan Hawke on the front. The magazine’s new editor Adam Moss explains: “We feared an uproar if we put a naked model on news-stand copies.”

Americans are losing interest in Iraq. One reason: they are becoming hardened to the deaths and other grisly events. A poll of 1,000 Americans by the prestigious Pew Research Institute reveals that just 39 per cent now say they follow events in Iraq closely, down 15 per cent since April. Moreover 35 per cent say they feel less emotionally involved with the news from Iraq – up from 26 per cent in May.

The title of cheapest magazine in America – if only for one week – was claimed by In Touch. The US edition of the German-owned celebrity mag – which normally sells for $1.99 – cut its price to a bare bones 25 cents, the equivalent of less than 15p. Its publisher, Bauer, claims the magazine is the fastest growing in the US. In the first six months this year it sold an average of 750,000 copies a week on the news-stands – up 77 per cent from last year. Cutting the price was, the publisher claimed, a way of saying “thank you” to its readers. The magazine aims to sell a million copies a week. But it still has a way to go before it overtakes its rival People, which sells 3,600,000 a week.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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