American Pie 01.11.05

Now it’s official. This year is proving to be the worst year for
American newspapers for decades. A report by the Wall Street firm of
Goldman Sachs even predicts its won’t get any better. National
advertising, in the words of Wall Street, is “under-performing.”, The
only bright sign: the cost of newsprint, which had been rising , is
expected to go down in 2006. But this won’t alleviate the problem,
which is compounded by falling readership It continues to ratchet
down— almost 2 per cent in the past six months.

All over the US
newspapers are laying off staff, bureaus are closing, One of the
biggest problems, say analysts, is that newspapers are now living in an
“on-demand” media world. That is younger readers – those under 30, even
under 35 – want their news on-line. According to Tom Rosenstiel, ,
director of an organization called The Project for Excellence in
Journalism, what’s disappearing is the traditional 7-day-a-week reader.
Some Americans now say they are no longer interested in picking up
their morning paper on the doorstep. It’s usually all old news, they
say. News they have already heard.

Says Brian Toolan, editor of
The Hartford Courant, which has just laid off l4 of its staff this
month ‘The thing that keeps me up at night is that younger readers –
the ones we are not getting – don’t want the mainstream quality of
newspapers” Philip Meyer, a professor at the University of North
Carolina, and author of a book called The Vanishing Newspaper, suggests
the industry needs to think up more novel, even crazy ideas. For
example something like USA Today, which when it was first published was
derided as the “McPaper” because of its short stories and colourful
layout. Now its one of America’s top sellers. But even some new ideas
are proving costly. The new weekend-end edition of the Wall Street
Journal is cutting into the company’s profits much more than anyone
expected. Launching the new edition is said to have cut into the
company’s third-quarter earning by as much at 19 per cent.

The
Chief of Staff of the American vice –president may have been indicted
for trying to mislead the investigation into the now famous Washington
CIA news leak, but it doesn’t let the three journalists involved in the
investigation off the hook .Judith Miller, who went to jail for
refusing to talk about her sources, Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine and
Tom Russert of NBC News, are all likely to be called as witnesses in
the trial of “Scooter ” Libby. No-one can recall a case when reporters’
testimony has been so crucial. “What’s so troubling” says Floyd Abrams,
a lawyer noted for his defence in the past of many cases involving
journalists, is that reporters may be obliged,, if the case goes to
trial, to testify against someone to whom they promised
confidentiality. In fact already the effect is being felt . Many
Washington officials are already indicating they no longer want to talk
– least of all confide – in journalists . A promise of anonymity is no
longer enough. Lucy Dalglish, director of the Reporters’ Committee for
Freedom of the Press, said the case is setting a dangerous precedent.
“It makes my blood run cold” she confessed.

The merger of The
Village Voice. America’s first “alternative” weekly, which has just
celebrated its 50th birthday, with a chain of freebie newspapers ,
reminded some old-time members of the staff of the time when The Voice
was owned by Rupert Murdoch, In the anniversary issue writer Nat
Hentoff recalled reminding the head of News Corp that at one time he
worked for him at The Voice., Murdoch, he said, groaned “Oh, The Voice
, the bane of my existence.” The reason? The Voice was probably the
only Murdoch newspaper that openly criticized him – mainly because of
his opposition to trade unions. At one point, he was so angry over the
writing of one of the paper’s columnists, Alexander Cockburn, that he
ordered him fired. When the editor demurred Murdoch said he would sell
the paper – to someone worse than him. Which he did. – to the owner of
a pet food business Murdoch, who has bigger battles these days, reveals
in an interview in this months Fortune magazine that he was once paid a
million dollars as an advance on his autobiography. However he was so
depressed when he started writing it (it made him feel his life was
over, he confesses) that he sent the cheque back.

Animal rights
activists won’t give up on Anna Wintour, Over Halloween, members of
PETA, angry because the editor of Vogue refuses to ban ads for clothes
that use animal furs, gathered outside her New York office wearing Anna
Wintour masks, witches’ hats, black dresses and carrying broomsticks.
They called themselves Wintour Witches.

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