American Pie 06.03.03

The San Francisco Examiner, one of America’s oldest and best-known newspapers and once the flagship of the Hearst empire, is now a mini-sized freebie – much to the dismay of many US journalists and citizens of San Francisco. The Examiner, which William Randolph Hearst’s mining millionaire father won in a card game back in 1880, was renowned for its writers – who included Mark Twain and Jack London – and for its championing of the Spanish-American War. But these days few American cities can support two daily papers. Three years ago, the paper was sold – at a knock-down price – to the Fang family, publishers of several freebie papers, including Asian Week, who got into the business after printing menus for local restaurants. The Fangs promised to keep the Examiner alive. But the family claims times have got tougher and this month it laid off most of its editorial staff, leaving just two editors and three reporters to bring out the new mini-sized freebie. The Hearst family were reportedly upset. “It’s a mockery,” said William Randolph Hearst III, who suggested his grandfather would be disgusted at the way his paper had been allowed to die. “But then the real Examiner died some time ago,” he conceded.

Some American news weeklies, fearing the reaction of advertisers if war with Iraq does happen, are making plans to revise their lay-outs so they can publish “war-free sections”.

US News and World Report, for example, plans to divide itself into two. The front half will be war news; the second half, with its own cover and titled second front, will contain news unrelated to the war. This way, it hopes to persuade advertisers who might be shy of their ads running alongside war stories to stay with the magazine. Newsweek claims none of its advertisers has yet threatened to pull out. “But we’ll see when the bullets start flying,” admitted editor Mark Whitaker.

The growing boycott here of French products such as wine and cheese could spread to magazines with the news that Saddam Hussein has a stake in Hachette Filipacchi, parent publisher of such titles as Elle, Car & Driver and Women’s Day. It’s only a small stake – about 2 per cent of French holding company Lagardere SCA – but reportedly worth $90m. Saddam did have much more, but it is claimed he sold off a slice of his holding after the Gulf War. Several big advertisers here, including EstŽe Lauder, Coach and Banana Republic, said they were unaware of the connection.

Although a court here rejected a claim by Larry Flynt that the Pentagon had no right to bar his magazine Hustler from US military bases in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has agreed to allow one of Flynt’s reporters to travel with US troops to Iraq. At the same time, to appear even-handed, it has opened up spaces for Arab journalists who might want to cover the American side of any fighting.

More war-related news. The State Department is working on a new “lifestyle” magazine aimed at l8 to 25-year-olds to be published in Arabic and distributed in the Middle East. The magazine, as-yet unnamed, will avoid politics and focus on such topics as education, careers, technology, music and health. Just under $1m has been allocated for the first four issues, with an option of a further $8m if it takes off.

In a flurry of changing desks, Hearst Magazines has made some big new appointments at Harper’s Bazaar. Valerie Salembier, a former executive at the New York Post who is credited with increasing the ad pages at Esquire since she joined Hearst in 1996, is the new publisher of the big fashion mag. Cynthia Lewis, who she is succeeding, will join Mandi Norwood, who edited British Cosmo for five years and was editor of Mademoiselle until it folded last year, to put together a new women’s style magazine, as-yet unnamed, to be launched next year.

Ron Ziegler, the fresh-faced press secretary to Richard Nixon (he was just 29 when appointed) who died at the age of 63, will be best remembered for his dismissal of the infamous Watergate break-in as “a third-rate burglary”. But he was also responsible for the coinage of a couple of other now common journalistic phrases in Washington. He minted the expression “photo-op” and was responsible for changing “press conference” to “news conference”, which the electronic media liked but the pen and pencil reporters didn’t.

Jeffrey Blyth

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