American Pie 18.04.02

It’s not just bullets that reporters covering the Middle East have to dodge – it’s hate mail too. Many US journalists report an increase in the number of nasty e-mails and letters they receive after writing stories about the Middle East, no matter which side of the conflict they are writing about. USA Today reporter Jack Kelly, who wrote a story about Jewish settlers on the West Bank opening fire on a Palestinian taxi filled with Muslims, reports that over the next 10 days he received 3,000 e-mails, including several death threats. "Someone sent me a bouquet of white funeral flowers. The message was loud and clear," he says. Robin Wright, who has covered the Middle East for the LA Times for more than 25 years, says many of her readers get very angry – and often very rude. "I get it from both sides" she says. Lee Hockstader, the Jerusalem bureau chief for the Washington Post, reports he has a bulging file filled with most venomous hate mail imaginable. Even papers such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune got scores of protests, including one from the Governor of Minnesota, for not using the word "terrorist" in its reports about Palestinian suicide bombers.

 

Two of the US’s oldest publications, TV Guide and Reader’s Digest, are having problems – notably declining circulations. At one time TV Guide, which will be 50 years old this year, had a circulation of almost 20 million. As recently as 1998 it was still selling 13 million. Now it’s down to nine million. Of course, one reason for the decline is that newspapers today, unlike back in the Fifties, print TV listings. Also, in its early days TV Guide published many provocative articles. During the late Eighties, when it was owned briefly by Rupert Murdoch, it became more of a celebrity publication. Today critics have dubbed it a "lumbering giant". Reader’s Digest, although it is still sold in more than 60 countries and printed in 19 languages, is also suffering from a decline and has lately been beset by inter-office politics over what direction it should take. It’s now 55 years old and, despite a recent facelift, is still committed to such well-worn themes as "Hope, Despair, Joy, Laughter and Tears". So vanilla-flavoured critics have dubbed it "the Barry Manilow of magazines".

 

The new look of The Wall Street Journal has had a mixed reception. Many gave it an A+ for effort, but a B- for design. Most agreed that the change, with more colour and what was described as "lots of bells and whistles", as a step in the right direction. New York Daily News editor Ed Kosner thought it a little too pastelly, but liked it. New York Post editor Col Allen conceded: "Colour speaks to the younger reader." Al Neuharth, who 20 years ago founded USA Today, had the most pithy comment: "It’s taken them a long time to catch up."

The success of Maxim, which five years after launching in the US claims to be the largest general interest men’s magazine in the world, is spawning a whole slew of imitators. There is King, aimed at African-Americans, and a Canadian publication called Razor. Then there is Tongue, the magazine launched this week by rock star Gene Simmons. One of Maxim’s secrets has just been revealed. Of its 46 staff in New York, almost half are women. It’s claimed the women, ranging from publisher Carolyn Kremins to marketing director Kim Willis, have helped stop the magazine becoming a ‘frat-boy’ rag. We should have known. It’s that woman’s touch…

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