American Pie 19.12.02

Are US journalists losing touch with their readers, as some media critics here say? An end-of-the-year report by the American Society of Newspaper Editors suggests they may be. Until recently, the report notes, journalism was largely a blue-collar craft. As recently as 1971, only 58 per cent of newspaper journalists had college degrees. Now it’s almost 90 per cent, compared with 15 per cent of the total population over the age of 25. As for salaries, the average for experienced reporters on the 40 largest papers in the country is just under $60,000 (£40,000). On really large papers, it’s a lot more. In other words, says the report, many big-city journalists have moved away from the largely middle and working class audience they purportedly serve. At best they are out of touch, at worst they’ve become elitist. Today, newspapers here seldom write about the middle or working classes. "We don’t write about them because we no longer live like them," says Martin Baron, editor of the Boston Globe. "There is a subtle disdain for their lives, their lifestyles, and their material and spiritual aspirations." It’s suggested that today’s journalists have more in common with their sources – government officials, scientists, lawyers and businesspeople. The result? Many journalists assume that everybody has air-conditioned cars and air-conditioned homes and everyone can afford an annual holiday. The solution? To go back, if possible, to hiring more bright young reporters with blue-collar backgrounds. It’s either that or, as one editor suggested – hopefully jokingly – cutting the pay of reporters so they can share the problems and hardships of their readers.

 

So Bigfoot, as some journalists suspected, was all a hoax. America’s equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster and the Abominable Snowman was a prank dreamed up by a construction worker in the wooded areas of the American North West. He was inspired, it’s said, by bear prints in the snow he saw while logging trees. A carpenter friend of his cut him 16in-long wooden feet which he used to make impressions in the snow around his logging site. He even dressed up in a gorilla costume and had a friend take grainy out-of-focus pictures of the purported monster.

Now that the construction worker, Ray Wallace, has died at the age of 84, his family felt it was time to reveal the truth. Why didn’t he reveal the truth earlier? Because he was afraid people would be mad at him, said his son, who still has the fake plywood feet.

 

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, few of whose members are full-time journalists, has chalked up another black mark. Invited to New York for a special press screening of Gangs of New York, some of the junketeers behaved so badly at an after-movie dinner, including spraying wine, that the restaurant staff wanted to call the police. They were persuaded not to by the film company’s publicist. The restaurant was told: "The Hollywood foreign press are very passionate people."

 

Twenty years ago, two members of the editorial staff of a newspaper in Toronto, one of them a copy boy, clubbed together to launch a new board game. Its name: Trivial Pursuit. Ultimately, they both became millionaires. Now two members of the New York Post are hoping the same might happen to them. They have devised and launched a new card game called Man Bites Dog. The idea: to create headlines from words and phrases on different cards drawn from the pack. Every word or phrase has a point value – "Heiress" and "Runaway", for example, are worth more than "Wall Street".

 

Alistair Cooke’s book, Letter from America, which brought the veteran writer and broadcaster more fame and fortune than even his BBC broadcasts (it sold more than a million copies back in the early Seventies), is being republished with a new introduction by the 92-year-old. Also being republished is Bodyguard of Lies, the doorstopper-sized book about spying and black propaganda during the Second World War by former Daily Mail reporter Anthony Cave Brown, which first came out in 1975.

 

Shoe-bomber Richard Reid is complaining that prison officials are censoring his weekly copy of Time magazine. The 29-year-old British-born admitted terrorist, who is due to be sentenced in January for trying to blow up a Miami-bound airliner last December, claims that officials ripped out of his magazine a story titled "Al-Qaida: Alive and Kicking Again".

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