American Pie 09.05.02

Are newspapers an endangered species? The new editor of the New York Times, Howell Raines, seems to think so. Asked what he thought of the new New York Sun (Press Gazette, 25 April), he said that he welcomed its launch. "As we are such an endangered species these days, any new newspaper is welcome," he said. But how to put off the day when newspapers really do join the dinosaurs? That was what editors debated at this year’s conference of the American Newspaper Association. The consensus: newspapers will have to work harder to find more smaller advertisers. They should get more involved in direct mail advertising, produce separate publications focused on real estate and car sales. And very important: the price of newspapers may have to come down to attract new younger readers. In fact, it was suggested papers here should cut back to 25 cents (15p) instead of the 50 cents to a dollar that most charge these days. One glimmer of hope: the belief that laws limiting newspaper ownership of TV stations in the US may soon be lifted.

 

According to the annual Editor & Publisher survey, the number of daily papers in the US fell last year from 1,480 to a record low of 1,468. Circulation dropped, too, from 55,772,847 a year ago to 55,578,046 today – a drop of almost 200,000. Sunday papers fell from a record high of 917 to 913. If all that isn’t bad enough, the news-stand sales of magazines in the US fell last year too. There was almost a 7 per cent drop in sales, adding to the more than 20 per cent drop since 1996. One reason is an almost precipitous drop in the sales of the weekly tabloids, and such publications as TV Guide whose sales fell nearly 30 per cent in the second half of last year.

 

The Wall Street Journal has been selling off, for charity, original prints of its dot-print portraits of celebrities. The pictures, known as dot drawings – or in the trade as hedcuts – have been one of the WSJ’s trademarks for decades. Churchill fetched more than the Queen: $473 v $102 (£322 v £70), but less than Princess Diana whose cut went for $485. Bill Clinton went for $305, Hillary for $290 and Monica Lewinsky for $260. Ariel Sharon fetched less than Yasser Arafat ($71 v $202). Sports celebrities did better with Tiger Woods going for $860 and basketball player Michael Jordan fetching $733. But newspaper celebrities fared badly. Lord Thomson went for $46 and Lord Black drew a bid of only $61. At least he outsold Jean ChrŽtien, the Canadian politician who refused to let him take his British title as long as he remained a Canadian citizen. His mugshot went for $22. None of the media moguls did as well as Larry Flynt of Hustler ($102) or former Talk editor Tina Brown ($210).

 

After being shuttered for several years the old Chicago Police headquarters, the setting for Ben Hecht’s famous newspaper play The Front Page, is finally being demolished. And what did the wrecking crew find when they reached the old press room? "It was a time capsule," one reported. Among the discoveries were three rusting coffee machines, three girlie calendars, a June 1979 Playboy, a Chianti bottle (drained dry) and manila folders marked "expenses" and "ideas", the first stuffed with old cash register receipts. There was also the old brown leather couch, where reporters (and the occasional cop) would sleep off their hangovers. In one of the desks they found a cache of whiskey bottles – all empty.

 

 

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