American Pie 08.05.03

Who won the war? The “media” war that is. Here in the US, according to a study by the Readership Institute, television won hands down. Even in areas where newspapers expected to win. Television news, the study reported, was the most complete, most accurate and offered the best experts. The survey, of more than 1,500 people in 100 markets, gave TV a one-plus rating. The most surprising discovery was the people already “moderate” to “heavy” readers of newspapers did not pick up a paper more frequently, or spend more time reading their paper during the war. Readership by “light” and young readers did increase modestly – but it’s feared it won’t continue. The report, presented to the Newspaper Association of America at a conference in Seattle, accused publishers of not targeting young readers in their war coverage. “You planned for the war like you covered wars in the past,” the editors were told by the institute director John Lavine. One bright note: the report credited a lot of the increase in TV and cable viewership to the number of print journalists who filed reports on the air.

The much anticipated, somewhat delayed debut here on TV of Tina Brown got mixed reviews. Several critics thought she was nervous – which was probably understandable. Others likened the show to an up-scale Manhattan dinner party – with not very exciting guests. On the first show they included Barry Diller, chairman of a big entertainment conglomerate, Lord Black, the ultra-Conservative publisher of The Daily Telegraph, and other papers, Sir Howard Stringer, chief executive of the Sony Corporation, Malcolm Gladwell, a political writer for The New Yorker, and Queen Noor, the widow of King Hussein of Jordan. A high-powered group of guests – but none that newsy. And most of them long-winded. Everyone however agreed that Brown looked good. Will she take the show to Britain? She doesn’t think so. “I don’t think I’d risk it. They’re way too tough on everybody.” Although the ratings showed the programme had an estimated audience of only 74,000 , the producer said it was “satisfactory – in fact good” for a debut show. A repeat broadcast on the West Coast had an audience of 116,000.

The move back to New York of the US tabloid The Star is expected to lead to a dramatic change in format. “A repackaging” was how David Pecker, chairman of American Media, put it. That means a new design, writing style and a new editor. The Star, the most celebrity-oriented of the US tabloids, hopes the changes will help it regain its prominence in the field. These days its biggest competitors are not its fellow tabloids but the glossy magazine-style celebrity magazines such as Us, People and In Touch. However, some journalists are pessimistic, among them former Star editor Phil Bunton, who thinks the move is too late. “The market’s already over crowded,” he declared.

A survey by the Indiana University School of Journalism shows that the average US journalist is 41-years-old, is white and makes an average of $43,600 (£27,100) a year. He is also likely to have a college degree. In the past decade the median age has risen five years, and the median pay by just less than 40 per cent. The school, which has been tracking these things since 1971, also reports about a third of all a journalists in the US are women, a proportion unchanged for more than 20 years.

by Jeffrey Blyth

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