As fighting in the world’s hotspots escalates, and more journalists are risking their lives, one of the hottest selling items in military surplus stores here are bullet proof vests. Newspapers and television networks are snapping them up to ship to their correspondents in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The bestseller is a new ultra-lightweight vest that costs $1,200 (about £800) and is claimed to be able to stop a 9mm bullet fired from just 16ft away. After watching a demonstration at a firing range here CBS ordered a dozen. Other news organisations are sending their correspondents who are headed abroad to a training camp in the foothills of Virginia, an off-shoot of a similar camp in Britain. In fact some of the instructors are ex-Royal Marine commandos. The five-day course, which includes instruction in first aid, how to recognise landmines and how to avoid capture, costs the equivalent of £1,500. Among the camp’s clients have been the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, ABC News and Time magazine. At one recent session, six of the eight newsmen attending classes were from Reuters.
With the closing down of many BBC transmitters around the world, the World Service has lately been hard to pick up in many places – to the dismay of many long-time listeners. Now the NY Times and the BBC are getting together to make some BBC audio programmes available on the internet.
It’s the first ever link-up between the BBC and a US newspaper. To start, the service will include two one-hour programmes, World Update and The World, plus regular World Service bulletins..
Is Penthouse likely soon to join the growing list of magazines that have folded this year? Accountants have warned that General Media, the company that owns what was once the biggest-selling rival to Playboy, is in dire financial trouble. One of the reasons, apart from the downturn in advertising, is the increasing competition from other men’s magazines such as Maxim. Last year Penthouse’s circulation fell to just over 650,000. At one time it boasted more than 5 million readers and was making $20m (£13.9m) a year. The magazine’s founder, Bob Guccione, is even putting his Manhattan East Side residence on the market to try to meet the company’s debts. Asking price: $40m (£27.8m).
Not that Playboy isn’t also having problems these days. It’s under fire for what’s been labelled a tasteless stunt which involved inviting former female staff of Enron, the big financial company that went spectacularly bankrupt, to pose as Playmates. With their clothes off, of course. "Wear a lot, earn a little. Wear a little, earn a lot", was the come-on. That was followed by a similar offer to former male employees of Enron from Playgirl. In the past Playboy has of course featured Ivy League college girls, women working in government in Washington, even women on Wall Street. But Playboy has been taken to task for trying to exploit women who are down on their luck, out of work and with families to feed. "No-one is forcing them to do anything. It’s a door of opportunity," insisted a spokesman for Playboy. Despite the criticism more than 40 former Enron women have signed up.