American Pie 07.03.2006

By Jeffrey Blyth in New York

All eyes on looming Knight Ridder sale

This is a defining week for the American newspaper industry. This Friday is the deadline for bids for the Knight Ridder group, the second largest in the US with newspapers in more than 30 towns and cities.

If the bids are high, it would indicate that Wall Street has not given up on the newspaper industry despite all the gloomy predictions. If there are no bids — or if they are lower than acceptable — it will be bad news.

What would be a good bid? Seventy dollars a share for a total of just under $5,000 million (£3,000 million) might be acceptable. If the bids are less than that, newspaper stocks generally are likely to plunge, suggests the Wall Street Journal.

Knight Ridder is a tough sell: Some of its larger papers, notably the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Jose Mercury News are not big money-makers. Some others do well, but the company has said it will not sell of any of its papers piecemeal. Although the group has been on the market since November, there have been no really serious bids. Investors at the moment are somewhat leery of newspapers. As one Wall Street analyst put it: “Like oil wells, many of them are running dry”.

 

New legal woes for Lord Black

Sotheby’s, the international auction house and real-estate brokerage, is suing the troubled former newspaper publisher for $557,000 — the commission it says it is owed for selling his apartment on Manhatta’s Park Avenue.

Lord Black, it’s claimed, got paid for the apartment — somewhere just over $10 million — but the US tax authorities stepped in and seized the payment. They claimed the apartment had been originally bought with illegal funds from Hollinger International.

Lord Black’s cheque was returned to Sotheby’s with “Payment Stopped” stamped on it.

Buchwald refuses dialysis

Although the decision may hasten his death, columnist Art Buchwald, who recently lost part of one his legs because of diabetes and other medical problems and is now in a Washington hospice, has declined to undergo dialysis. He told doctors he does not want to undergo the three-times-a-week, five hours at a time, procedure. He prefers, he told them, to wait and see what happens.

Last week officials of the American Columnists’ Association visited him in hospital and at his bedside presented him with their Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award. He was to have received the award in Boston in June — but officials were told he might not be able to make it then. Buchwald, who was 80 last year, started writing his column when he worked for the International Herald Tribune in France in the 1950s. He has written more than 8,000 columns since then. From his hospital bed he was written one final column — which he says he hopes will be published the day after his death.

Tabloid circulation gap narrows in New York

Although its still bleeding money, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post is catching up with its big rival, the Daily News, at least in circulation. The gap is now down to 16,000. Mort Zuckerman, the real-estate developer who bought the News in a bankruptcy sale in l993 for $36 million, is still confounded how the Post continues, but puts it down to the fact that Murdoch is still prepared to pour millions into the Post — one estimate put the figure at $70 million a year.

The lack of economic logic in the media business almost drives him crazy, Zuckerman admits. For his part he has tried to change the editorial image of the News, changing editors no less than three times since he took over. His latest editor is former Fleet Street newsman Martin Dunn, who once worked for News Corp.

Losing its narrow lead over the Post, it has been suggested, would drive Zuckerman really crazy. But, as he told the New York Times, Zuckerman has no intention of giving up the battle — in fact his hope is that one day his daughter Abigail, who is just seven, will some day be named publisher of the Daily News.

Vodka row shuts Absolute Magazine

After just a seven issues, Absolute Magazine, a title aimed at luxury spenders, has folded. The staff of 36 were stunned, especially as the next issue has been printed and was about to be distributed.

What happened? It turns out that the liquor company owned by the Swedish Government which produces Absolut Vodka, had launched a copyright infringement suit — even though the two names are not spelled exactly the same way.

“It was like a David and Goliath battle,” one insider at the Spanish publishers of Absolute told the New York Post. The cost of the legal battle had become unsustainable. The company intends to continue publishing European editions of the magazine.

Cooke’s daughter tells of body-snatching agony

Although it is now three months since she got a call from the police, Alistair Cooke’s daughter Susan Cooke Kittredge says she still agonizes over the discovery that her father’s bodywas desecrated by funeral-home ghouls who sold parts to doctors and research centres, allegedly, for over $7,000.

The body snatching ring appear to have forged his death certificate to suggest he died from a heart attack and not lung cancer, and altered his age from 95 to 85.

The macabre trade she says, involved at least a thousand bodies. She confirmed that her father’s bones had been replaced with plastic piping To think of him “truncated” is something that will haunt her for ever, she told the New York Times.

Free papers cause 15 tonnes of litter per day

They may be given away, but the freebie papers and magazines that are proliferating these day are proving to be a financial burden to some.

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the city’s subways and bus stations, says the free papers, which many riders discard either during or after their ride, are costing the city an additional $6.4 million a year in clean-up costs.

Each day the freebies add about 15 tons of trash. As a result the city has had to hire more than 100 extra cleaners and switch almost another 200 from construction to clean-up work. There is also the increased danger from fire, There is talk of charging the publishers of the freebies for the extra cost, although a spokesman for one of the papers, am New York, insisted vendors are warned never to leave undistributed papers on station platforms — and can be given a summons and a hefty fine if they do.

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