Now is the time when editors are asked to name the biggest stories of the past year. According to a US poll by Associated Press, the top story was the threatened war against Iraq, followed by the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, the Moscow theatre siege, the Bali bombing and the Wall Street scandals. The invitation to 10 more countries to join the EU was number six on the list, followed by the Washington sniper attacks, the election of new leaders in China, the American war against terrorism and finally, in 10th place, the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan.
The most overworked word of 2002 was "bitter". Someone calculated that the NY Times used the word 2,200 times, ranging from "bitter medicine" and "bitter battles" to "bitter feelings" over the Afghanistan war. There were "bitterly fought elections", "bitter lawsuits" and, of course, "bitter weather". Once the word turned up 21 times in a single issue. It even spread to the book reviews, where Christopher Hitchen noted HL Menken’s "lifelong bitterness". As for journalists themselves, one Times reader wrote in a letter that he found most newspaper people fun – but also bitter.
Lake Superior University’s annual awards for the most over-abused cliches included "make no mistake about it" and "now, more than ever", which both became overworked after the terrorist attacks on the US. Redundancies such as "frozen tundra" and "an undisclosed secret destination" also made the list, as did "untimely death". "Has anyone ever suffered a timely death?" the college asked.
Cover star of the year’s top-selling issue of People magazine was Ben Affleck, named the "sexiest man alive". It sold 1,600,000 copies – slightly fewer than George Clooney shifted in 1997, but lots more than other contenders, such as Pierce Brosnan, Brad Pitt, Richard Gere and Harrison Ford. The record-holder is John F Kennedy, who sold almost 2,000,000 copies on the news-stands in 1988. Ironically, the worst-selling issue on the news-stands in 2002 was the one marking the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center.
Despite the financial beating it took over Rosie magazine, Gruner+Jahr is going ahead with plans for Flash, described as a "sexy mag for twentysomethings". It will feature "stars, shopping, style and sex" and is expected to make its debut some time this year. A trial issue of 500,000 copies is due to hit the news-stands here this week.
Time magazine’s choice of the People of the Year created some controversy. The three women "whistle-blowers", who worked at World Com, Enron and the FBI, focused attention on corporate bad behaviour, but did they meet the award criteria set by Henry Luce 75 years ago? He said it should go to the person or persons who, for better or worse, most affected world events. "How does cooking the books on Wall Street and ignoring terrorist warnings fit that picture?" many critics asked.
Papers are tipped to do better this year, not because of an upturn in advertising but due to a drop in the cost of newsprint and more use of new technology. US magazines will learn from their British counterparts to cut staff and costs. Felix Dennis predicts: "The age of celebrity editors and monstrous staffing are over."