American Pie 17.01.03

The amount Americans spend on news has fallen 5 per cent since 2000. Last year the average US family spent just $57 (£36) on newspapers – just over half of what they spent on internet services. The biggest drop was in the age group 35 to 44. Those aged 65 and over are still the biggest spenders on newspapers. The report was presented at a Florida meeting of newspaper executives, many of whom found the figures scary. Recent efforts to attract young readers – such as newspapers Red Streak and Red Eye, launched recently by Chicago’s two leading dailies – have not been a big success. Sales have been rated just “fairly good”. Many publications are now considering charging for what they have been giving away on the web – the amount of time most Americans spend on the web is increasing.

First it was Bob Guccione selling his multi-million dollar Manhattan townhouse because sales of Penthouse have plunged, now it’s the Forbes family selling prized assets. The heirs of Malcolm Forbes, who started Forbes magazine and several other business publications, are putting the family’s collection of Victorian art on the auction block. The collection ranks alongside those of the Tate Gallery and the Victoria & Albert museum. Whether the proceeds of the auction, scheduled for London next month, will be used to help prop up the financially ailing publishing company or be shared between the heirs, no one is saying. All that Steve Forbes, who runs the company, will say is that he won’t personally be at the auction. “I don’t want anyone to see me crying,” he said.

Tina Brown’s column in The Times is to start appearing on the US website Salon. She has also agreed to become a contributing writer to a new magazine called Radar to be launched shortly. This despite approaches from Vanity Fair, which she once edited, and The New York Times’s Sunday magazine. Explained Brown: “I like being a bit out of the mainstream, a little left of centre.” The editor-in-chief of Salon, David Talbot, confessed: “We are overwhelmed.”

The admission by former ABC science correspondent Michael Guilian that the story of “Eve” – the baby claimed to have been cloned by the Raelians – might have been a hoax (although he is still not sure), recalled a similar story 25 years ago. That was when another science correspondent, David Rorvick, of The New York Times and Time, claimed the inside story of a US multi-millionaire who had financed a similar baby cloning experiment at a secret medical facility on a remote unnamed island in the Pacific. When I filed the story for the Daily Mail, David English was so intrigued that he dispatched a reporter to Singapore to scour the Pacific for the secret medical facility. He drew a blank. Nevertheless, Rorvick remained convinced and wrote a book called In His Image. It was a big seller for some time.

The Wall Street Journal might emulate the Financial Times and launch a Saturday edition, because of the downturn in advertising, especially in business and technology ads. There is only one way to counter this, the WSJ feels, and that is to attract more consumer advertising. But there is one big problem with a Saturday edition – most WSJ readers are businessmen who get their copy delivered to their offices. To succeed, a weekend edition would have to be distributed to their homes.

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