American Pie 08.04.05

Freelances whose material has been used on websites can now look
forward to a windfall after several big publishers – among them the New
York Times, Time Inc and Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street
Journal – have agreed to pay them for it. For some it could mean a
payout of $100,000, or more than £50,000. About 10,000 are expected to
benefit. In all, the companies could end up paying $18m (about £10m).
The settlement marks the end of a fouryear legal tussle in which three
national writers’ organisations sued publishers on behalf of freelances
who complained that their work was being resold online. This amounted,
they claimed, to re-publication for which they should be paid. At one
stage writers were told by the New York Times that if they didn’t agree
to their material being resold they would not get new assignments.
There was even a threat that work by the writers who were complaining
would be pulled from the Times archives. A Times spokesman, however,
now says the agreement is fair and everyone should be happy.

 

The
furore over a mistake in the winning numbers of the New York Daily News
‘Scratch and Match’ contest (Press Gazette, 25 March) grows more
heated. Scores of readers have been besieging its New York offices
claiming ‘winnings’ (in some cases as much as $100,000) and police have
been called several times.

Executives have had to run a gauntlet
of demonstrators waving the paper and the disputed contest page in
their faces. Promises by the News that it would run a special million
dollar contest for the aggrieved losers have not assuaged many readers,
many of whom say they spent days dreaming of what to do with the money
they thought they had won.

There have been threats to boycott the
paper and its advertisers and to disrupt its delivery trucks. While the
paper is blaming the firm that organised the contest, dozens of unhappy
‘winners’ have hired lawyers. But the contest is not the only problem
for the News. The photographer Phil Ramey, who over Easter took the
picture of Madonna and her husband Guy Ritchie (pictured), dressed as a
nun and the Pope at a Kaballah fancy dress party, claims that it ran
his picture without permission or even credit. He is suing for $25,000.

 

Tina
Brown is becoming a blogger. The former editor of The New Yorker and
Talk magazine, with her husband Sir Harold Evans, has agreed to join a
team that will be regular members of a new blog site – a sort of Brains
Trust Blog that will go online this month. Tina, in addition to hosting
a weekly chat show on American cable TV, writes a weekly column for The
Washington Post and is writing a book on Diana, Princess of Wales. The
website, thought up by Bernard Levin protégée Arianna Huffington, is
expected to be controversial and will include a feature called ‘Eat The
Press’.

 

Encouraged by the success of their UK
counterparts, more US papers are planning to go tabloid – or rather,
compact. As one editor put it: “Tabloid is so downmarket – it suggests
blood, sex and guts.

Compact makes you think of a small Mercedes or a small Jaguar.”

Whatever
the image, the latest publisher to contemplate the idea is Knight
Ridder, one of the biggest in the US, which has 31 papers from
California to Florida. It plans to switch at least three of its papers
but hasn’t said which. The betting is that one will be The Philadelphia
Inquirer, one of the chain’s flagships.

 

Whenever
there is a big scandal involving the US press – like, for example, the
use by CBS TV of forged documents to criticise President Bush’s
military service – someone inevitably says: “Ed Murrow must be spinning
in his grave.” Murrow (left), the CBS reporter who broadcast from
London at the height of the blitz, is still revered as America’s most
trusted reporter. There is a plaque in CBS headquarters in New York
which reads: “He set standards of excellence that remain unsurpassed”
and a song by Fleetwood Mac entitled Murrow Turning in His Grave.
However, one researcher may have finally put an end to the cliché. It
turns out that Murrow, who died in 1965, was actually cremated.

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