American Pie 15.04.05

New
brooms sweep clean – and sometimes very quickly, as Paul Field, the new
editor of The National Enquirer, has proved. Days after taking over the
reins of the weekly tabloid, and its move from Florida to New York, he
gave many of its old-timers their cards. One report described it as a
“bloodbath”. There was, according to The New York Post, lots of tears.
Many of those fired had worked for The Enquirer for 20 years or more.
Among those fired was West Coast bureau chief Jerry George, who is
being replaced by David Gardener, formerly the Daily Mail’s California
correspondent. Although he has hired a lot of other ex-UK journalists –
to add, he hopes, a little Fleet Street zip to the ailing tabloid – the
33-year-old (who worked for The Mail on Sunday and The Sun before he
crossed the Atlantic) plans to keep the ratio of Brits to US
journalists at around 50-50. In an interview with New York Magazine,
Field maintained that tabloids had become respectable, and that in
Britain they are taken as seriously as the broadsheets. “The Sun breaks
more big stories than The Times or The Independent,” he said. But he
will have his work cut out to meet the expectations of his boss, David
Pecker, head of American Media, who is looking to his new British
import to put The Enquirer back on top of the heap. Lately – although
no one will officially admit it – sales have dropped to well below a
million. In 1997 it was 2,500,000.

 

The
New York Daily News and The New York Post (left) are in the thick of a
battle over circulation figures. Each claims the other has been
inflating its figures by giving away papers every day, to the extent
that vendors are dumping them in trash cans and littering lawns of
suburban New York with papers in plastic bags that no one picks up or
reads.

The nub of the dispute is a proviso – some would call it a
loophole – in the circulation rules that allows papers to count as
sales, copies that a “third party” (such as a hotel or ad agency) buys,
usually at a discount, and then gives away. This might be dismissed as
just another newspaper battle, except that lately there have been calls
for an official investigation into such practices.

This follows
claims that Newsday, the big New York suburban daily, and Hoy, a
Spanish language daily, had inflated their circulations by tens of
thousands. The scandal even spread to the Dallas Morning News and the
Chicago Sun-Times, which were forced to restate their figures and make
refunds running into millions of dollars to advertisers. Both the News
and the Post deny any wrongdoing.

 

Doomsayers who
predict that print newspapers are inevitably going to fade away have
some fresh ammunition. A survey by the Carnegie Corporation, probably
the most in-depth of its kind ever conducted, says that for 18 to
34-year-olds, newspapers are the least preferred choice for local,
national and international news. They want “news on demand”, on the
internet or some other electronic medium. Tellingly, the average age of
a newspaper reader in the US is 53, and in the past 25 years the number
of people aged 30 to 39 who read a paper every day has dropped from 73
to 30 per cent.

Among young people, papers were viewed as less
trustworthy, up-todate and entertaining than rival media. The report
also predicts that in the next three years, 39 per cent of all 18 to
34-year-old Americans will get their news from the internet, 14 per
cent from local TV, 10 per cent from cable TV, and only eight per cent
from the papers.

Incidently, at a journalistic seminar in Canada several pundits predicted the date for the ultimate demise of print newspapers.

Make a note in your diary. It is… 2041.

 

It’s
not just Tina Brown who is working on a book (Press Gazette, 17 March).
While she is researching Princess Di’s influence on the media and the
monarchy, husband Sir Harry Evans is working on his memoirs, dating
back to his days in Ashtonunder- Lyne, where he started in journalism,
then later The Northern Echo and The Sunday Times. It will take him, he
reckons, about two years.

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