American Pie 14.11.05

American Pie Should newspapers charge for reading its star
columnists on line? That’s the debate that has arisen over the decision
of the NY Times to charge a fee (the equivalent of about 75 p a week)
to read the paper’s top columnists on a computer. Regular subscribers
don’t pay anything. For them the service is free. Many people –
including the columnists involved – were sceptical and suggested it
would never work. But The Times is claiming that 270,000 people , about
half of whom already subscribe to the print edition, have in just over
six weeks signed up for the extra service. Which means half of them –
that’s about 135,000 – have plumped down hard cash. Of course it’s a
lot less than the million or more who lash out as much as $600 (almost
350 pounds) a year for the regular daily on-the-doorstep edition of The
Times. And it’s a lot less than the 20 million or more “visitors” who
log in every month to the NY Time’s regular website. So what does it
mean? The NY Times is supposedly delighted by the figures – which are
higher than expected. But is it enough to match the continuing erosion
of readership of papers like the NY Times? Some critics suspect not.,
The figures to remember they say is that two thirds of the income for
papers like The Times comes from advertising – and advertiser likes to
see what they are paying for. The one paper here that seems to have
overcome this is the Wall Street Journal which has 764,000 subscribers
to its web site, and even charges readers who already subscribe to the
paper, although at a reduced rate. The Journal however is the
exception. In most cases experts say that for every dollar a newspaper
loses in advertising revenue because of its switch-over to a website,
only 33 per cent goes into the on-line pocket. As more readers switch
from print to web sites newsprint and distribution cost will go down.
But enough to justify the switch?

As if the New York Times didn’t
have enough on its agenda …it’s planning to enter a new field: It’s
about to launch a sports magazine. It will be called Play and will make
its debut in February.. The Times will be up against one of the
strongest magazines in the field, Sports Illustrated.. But with one
difference . Instead of being sold on news stands it will be included –
at no extra charge – in the Sunday editions of the NY Times. It will be
aimed,. says editor Mark Bryant, at people who play sports rather than
watching them.

On the same score, how are freebies doing. these
days? The takeover of the New York Village Voice – oldest of the
so-called “alternative” newspapers, founded 50 years ago by Norman
Mailer and which originally sold for 5 cents a copy in New York’s
bohemian Greenwich Village, but in recent years switched to a give-away
– means that one group, New Times Media, now owns 17 free weekly papers
in the US with a combined circulation of almost 2,000,000. The chain
includes freebies in such big cities as Los Angeles, San Francisco and
Dallas. Apart from the wary eye that the US Justice Dept has cast on
the merger because of anti-trust laws, there are some who believe that
freebies are not the success some claim. For example they are not it
seems cutting into the sales of regular newspapers. When they do gain
readers its usually because of the distribution methods – giving them
away at railway and bus stations, rather than in street-corner boxes.
And that’s not cheap. Most give-away vendors get paid around nine
dollars – that’s almost five pounds – an hour. As for attracting new
readership to newspapers, most analysts say that is not happening.

There
is another big investigation under way in Washington. This time into
who leaked to The Washington Post that the CIA is running a secret
network of prisons in Eastern Europe and other countries where
suspected terrorists are interrogated. The suspicion is that classified
information was disclosed. The investigation was ordered just two weeks
after perjury and other indictments were filed against Lewis Libby, the
former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who was accused of being the
secret informant in the CIA agent case involving the New York Times and
Time Magazine.The Washington Post story claimed the CIA has set up
secret detention centres in as many as eight countries in the last four
years. The writer: another woman journalist Diana Priest who up to now
has declined to comment on the story – and where she got it,.

If
anyone wonders why Judy Miller was so inclined to keep her mouth shut
about the name of her informant in the CIA investigation, they should
perhaps look to her childhood. Her father, Bill Miller, was the owner
of a nightclub called Bill Miller’s Riviera, in Fort Lee just across
the Hudson River from Manhattan . It was reportedly a swank place with
an illegal casino where Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr
launched their careers. It was also a hang-out it’s said of local
gangsters, including members of the Cosa Nostra or Mafia. And what is
the Mafia’s motto? Omerta – which means keep a tight lip.

Lunch
with Rupert Murdoch did not attract that many bidders. Aimed at raising
money for the Jerusalem College of Technology, which the chairman of
News Corp has supported in the past, the bidding (for lunch for five at
News Corps US headquarters) was supposed to start at $25,000 (just over
14,000 pounds) . The first bid over that figure was from German
publisher Norman Rentrop who bid the equivalent of 14,100 pounds. .
Thirty two bids later (most on the last day) the final – and anonymous
bid from someone using the codename “wabenhood” was for $57,100 (just
over 32 ,000 pounds) .. or roughly 6, 000 pounds a head. After the
bidding closed “wabenhood” was identified as Bill Zanker, chairman of a
company called The Learning Annex which promotes self-help courses and
lectures,. He said he has been a long-time admirer of Murdoch and hoped
to learn a lot at the luncheon.. Bon appetit!

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