American Pie 12.08.05

If
Richard Branson goes ahead with his plan to launch a freebie newspaper
in New York (Press Gazette, 4 August), his will be the 30th free paper
in the US. Once dismissed as novelties, free papers are catching on
around the world.

At the latest count, there were at least 135
free dailies in 29 countries, most of which are doing well. AM NewYork
boasts the largest free circulation in the US, printing 318,000 copies
a day – way ahead, at least in Manhattan, of The New York Times and NY
Daily News. Around the world, freebies are springing up like daisies.
Two were launched in Hong Kong last month alone.

Vancouver has
three – two linked to The Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province. But the
big question is: do freebies make money? Most won’t say, but there are
signs they do. The publisher of AM NewYork claims it has had some “good
months” since the paper was launched in October 2003. Ad sales, it’s
claimed, are up 50 per cent this year. Metro says it is only a matter
of time before it starts making money, like its sister flagship in
Europe, Metro Sweden, which reported a $4m profit earlier this year. So
promising seems the future for freebies that the NY Times has invested
just under $16m for a 49 per cent stake in Metro Boston.

 

The
New York Times is taking another big plunge. It has decided to
integrate its traditional newsroom with its online newsroom. “We plan
to diminish and eventually eliminate the difference between newspaper
journalists and web journalists,” says editor Bill Keller.

There is a promise that the merger will not result in any firings.

Currently
the print and online newsrooms are in separate buildings, but will be
integrated under one roof when the Times’ 52-storey headquarters opens
on Times Square in 2007. Still to be worked out are the different
contracts for print and web journalists. The Times has 20 editorial
staff working on its website, compared with more than 1,000 who work
for the print edition. Currently the print journalists tend to be
better paid.

 

Many US journalists are incensed by the
firing at The Miami Herald of one of its most popular columnists
because he broke what many regard as a minor “in-house rule”. It began
when a local politician, accused of mail fraud and money laundering,
called Herald columnist Jim DeFede, whom he knew, and talked about his
problems. The newsman sensed his caller’s depression and, without
thinking, he says now, taped their conversation. When it was over, the
politician shot himself in the newspaper’s lobby. “I sensed he might be
on the verge of suicide,” claimed DeFede. In Florida, unlike most
states in the US, taping a conversation without permission is illegal.
The Herald newsman told his bosses what he done, and as a result was
fired. Management claimed rules are rules and have to be obeyed. But
many see it as an example of how many US newspapers are trying to show
they are above reproach. As the dean of the California School of
Journalism put it: “In the past he might have been told: ‘Don’t do it
again’.”

 

OK!
is not the only new, European-style magazine to hit the newsstands
here. Hearst, publisher of Good Housekeeping and Redbook, is launching
its first women’s weekly, Quick & Simple. It’s an Americanised
version of the downmarket women’s magazines so popular in the UK and
the rest of Europe and Australia.

Until now, most of America’s
successful women’s magazines have been monthlies, aimed at
middle-market readers. But the success of Bauer’s Women’s World, which
sells more than a million copies a week, has encouraged others. Hearst
is pricing its new venture at $l.49, which is cheap by US standards.
The first issue will have a print run of 500,000.

 

How
did Lachlan Murdoch, spend his first hours after quitting as publisher
of the New York Post? With about eight friends and colleagues, he went
to an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, where they downed
several bottles of Peroni beer and several heaped plates of pasta with
truffles and stuffed courgettes. The meal – or was it a celebration? –
went on for five and a half hours. It was, reported one observer, quite
an emotional session. By the end, Murdoch seemed to be having
difficulty holding back tears.

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