American Pie 04.12.03

As The New York Times has pointed out, in journalism only the good die poor. The bad earn movie and book contracts, have films made about them and make a lot of money. The comparison was prompted by the contrasting reception here to recent movies and TV shows about journalists. Take the movie Veronica Guerin, about the Irish journalist gunned down by drug dealers. In the US, the movie virtually sank without trace. But Shattered Glass, a new movie about journalist Stephen Glass – who lied his way through a brief career at The New Republic – is packing them in. Since his exposure, Glass has also won a big book contract. Meanwhile, Jayson Blair, the now notorious New York Times reporter also exposed as a faker and plagiarist, has been courted to appear on TV, has a book coming out and is the subject of a made-for-TV movie. Sinners, it seems, fascinate audiences more than saints. Or have audiences grown accustomed to the idea that many journalists are ne’er-do-wells? In the Glass movie, the actor playing him says: “There are so many show-offs in journalism, so many braggarts and jerks.” The lesson seems to be that, nowadays, bad behaviour pays better.

George Bush’s admission that he isn’t a regular newspaper reader shocked many, but what of previous presidents? Editor and Publisher magazine reveals that Dwight D Eisenhower read nine papers every day: The Washington Post, The New York Times, Herald Tribune, Washington Star, Washington News, Washington Times-Herald, the Baltimore Sun, the New York Daily News and the Chicago Tribune. Four of the papers read by ‘Ike’ no longer exist. Which may be a reflection of how many other Americans, like Bush, no longer read papers.

Pint-sized free newspapers aimed at luring new young readers are a fast-growing segment of the US publishing industry. They are distributed at bus and railway stations and the latest is AM Journal Express in Dallas, of which 140,000 copies were handed out on the first day – a week after the long-established Dallas Morning News, in a pre-emptive strike, launched a miniversion of itself called Quick. There are freebies in Chicago, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and New York. Publishers claim they are popular with advertisers wanting to reach elusive 18 to 34 year olds. Some of those receiving them admit they are reading a newspaper for the first time. But a lot say if the paper wasn’t free they wouldn’t pick it up. Richard Karpel, head the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, which represents 123 weeklies, says: “It’s dumbed-down news.” Others, including Albert Williams, editor of the month-old freebie am-New York, predict that, in time, all newspapers will be given away.

The FOTs – that’s “Friends of Tina” – were out in force for a surprise 50th birthday party for Tina Brown. The exeditor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and Talk was moved, for once, to tears. Especially when husband Harold Evans re-read the article she wrote for The New Statesman while a student at Oxford and which, he claims, led him to him offer her a job and, of course, subsequently to marry her. It was an interview she did with Richard Crossman, which Harry read with relish, even referring to the former Labour Cabinet minister by his nickname at the time, Richard Crossbum. The FOT’s birthday party got more attention than a rival celebrity-studded party on the same night – the party for Conrad Black’s new book about FDR.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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