The good news is that fewer journalists around the world are being killed or jailed. The bad news is that the number being jailed under so-called "insult laws" is on the increase, according to a report presented at the Overseas Press Club in New York. Insult laws – which call for the arrest and punishment of anyone who insults or demeans a political leader, government institution or, in some countries, religious leaders – are spreading. It’s a new way to keep journalists in line. In Iran, for example, insulting religious leaders or publishing anything "harmful" to Islamic principles is punishable by up to 74 lashes, imprisonment or even death. In Turkey, a Time magazine stringer was recently charged with "insulting the army" because he described the Turkish military battling Kurdish rebels as behaving like an "occupying army". Then there was the case of two Ivory Coast journalists jailed for writing satirical stories suggesting their president’s presence at soccer games brought bad luck to their national team. At least 18 South American countries have ‘desecato’, or ‘insult’, laws on their books.
Is this a new trend? Celebrities demanding payment to pose for a cover picture. It is reported that Jennifer Lopez, recently voted Sexiest Woman in the World, is getting $250,000 (£177,000) to appear on the cover of Stuff. The report startled many editors. With the exception of such magazines as Playboy and Penthouse and the occasional foreign publication, celebrities here almost never get paid to pose for a cover, though they will often make demands – such as the right to approve the photographer. The singer-actress’s agent insisted the figure was "way off-base". Like press clubs all over, the Philadelphia Pen and Pencil Club, founded in 1892 and claiming to be the oldest in the US, is going through bumpy times. Two reasons: Philadelphia, which once had 10 papers, now has only two. "And journalists don’t drink like they used to," says Theresa Conroy, the club’s first woman president. Many nights the club’s bar is as dark as a tomb. Of its 500 members, almost half these days are non-journalists. "It’s nostalgia that keeps us going," many admit.
Although the number of cities in the US which have two or more papers is down to a handful, the number of ethnic or foreign-language newspapers is soaring. In New York, for example, the Bangladeshi community alone has eight papers and Polish New Yorkers have six. There are nine other publications, in four languages, aimed at Asians. Altogether there are almost 200 ethnic newspapers and magazines published in New York, three times the number 10 years ago. It’s a reflection of the growing diversity of the US population and the increasing number of immigrants from Asia and Latin America.
Robb Report, the magazine with the wealthiest readers in the US – average annual income $775,000 (£550,000) – has changed hands. Along with a sister publication, Showcase, it has been bought by CurtCo Media Labs for a reported $25m (£18m).
In the Seventies, National Lampoon was the most popular humour magazine in the US. But its audience, mostly college students, declined, ownership changed hands twice and finally it folded. Now there are plans to revive it – with a possible tie-in to a major Hollywood studio.
By Jeffrey Blyth