American Pie 09.12.04

More newspapers are sold daily in Japan than any other country in the world. And it isn’t due to the population. The US has a population of almost 300 million-more than twice Japan’s 127 million. Yet daily paper sales are close to 53 million-just a fraction less than the 55 million sold in the US. Top-selling paper in Japan is Yomiuri, which sells over 10 million, followed by Asahi at 8 million. America’s biggest-selling papers are USA Today (2,300,000), the Wall Street Journal (2,100,000) and the NY Times (1,100,000).Why the difference? It isn’t price. Japan’s top papers sell for 130 yen (that’s close to 70p). The NY Times and Wall Street Journal cost $1 (about 55p) while USA Today sells for 75 cents (just over 40p). The reason Japan sells more? According to Al Neuharth, who founded USA Today and to whom we owe these figures, it’s because Japanese papers run more news, are fairer, politer and more reader-friendly. Also, there is more news in Japanese papers than ads. Neuharth’s advice is publish more news, be fair and polite to friend and foe alike, then maybe, he says, you can charge more for your newspapers and still sell more of them.

Another secret to producing a successful paper? According to the publishers of Las Ultimas Noticias (“The Latest News”) from Chile, it’s letting readers choose the stories they want to read! Three years ago publisher, Augustine Edwards, installed a device in his offices in Santiago, which recorded the number of times readers clicked on the paper’s website, and what interested them most. Now if a story gets more than the usual number of clicks, the newsroom responds. If a story gets few clicks it’s killed. Edwards believes the idea really works. His paper is now, he claims, the most widely-read in Chile. But what do readers really want? On the recent visit of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, readers wanted to know where he went for dinner, what he ate (shrimp with couscous) and which delegates to an international conference were the best tippers (answer: the Japanese). Critics suggest the paper is “dumbing down” the news, to which the publisher responds: “We are reflecting a liberalising changing society”. Nevertheless some observers here, among them Orville Schell, of the University of California’s School of Journalism, believes it bodes ill for serious journalism.

The secret is out – the name of the person who provided TV journalist Jim Taricani ( Press Gazette, 12 Nov) with a tape recording of local officials in Providence, Rhode Island, accepting bribes. Turns out it was a local lawyer, who has admitted he turned over the tape. Taricani is due to be sentenced this week for contempt of court for refusing to name his source. That’s on top of $85,000 in fines which his network has already paid. The only thing that might affect his sentence- which could be six months in jail-is the fact he is in ailing health and has had several heart attacks. Taricani is only one of seven American reporters who have been held in contempt of court for refusing to name sources. The best known is Judith Miller, a NY Times reporter, who also faces jail for refusing to reveal who leaked the identity of a secret CIA operative.

It’s official-blog is now a word in the dictionaries. It’s listed in the new edition of the Merriam Webster dictionary. It’s No 1 in the list of Top New Words of the Year. Its definition: “a website that contains an online personal journal with reflections and comments”.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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