American Pie 20.03.03

While most of the attention at the moment is focused on the training and deployment of journalists covering the war in Iraq, there is also activity on the home front. Most papers, television and radio stations and even magazines here have been quietly making plans for how they would deal with a counter-attack in the US. The New York Times has started training members of its staff in New York and Washington in the use of gas masks and protective suits. In both cities, most media companies are holding emergency evacuation drills. At The Washington Post, whose main office is just three streets away from the White House, there are stockpiles of food and water. Also a supply of gas masks for reporters and photographers who might have to venture out to cover a story. National Public Radio has told its employees to take refuge, if need be, in the network’s air-tight studios. Journalists who might be tempted to some gung-ho journalism are being urged to show caution. At Newsday, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune orders have been given that no one is to be compelled to put themselves at risk. As one executive put it: “Not only is no story worth a reporter’s life, but a dead reporter or photographer isn’t going to report anything.”

Meanwhile, some of the newspapers and television networks that have been offered space with the US military, after weighing the financial cost, are turning down their slots. Cox Newspapers, which was allocated eight spaces, has given five of them to CNN. “We couldn’t afford to fill them,” admitted the managing editor of the Atlanta Constitution. The Baltimore Sun also turned down two of its four. Nevertheless, it’s expected that at least 500 journalists will be attached to US Forces. That’s the official list – apart from news organisations that have made their own plans. The largest number of places have been allocated to the five big TV networks and Associated Press – 26 each. Twenty per cent of the spaces have been allocated to foreign news organisations, ranging from the BBC and Norwegian TV to Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based TV network.

Despite the war talk, the uncertain economy and a decline in advertising, the magazine world here is still doing well. At least for the more specialised publications, for example, pets. A survey by Professor Samir Husni, of Mississippi University, who is known here as “Mr Magazine” for his studies on the US publishing industry, notes that 745 new magazines were launched last year – up from 702 in 2001. Sports and special interests had the most new titles with 66 apiece, followed by crafts, games, hobbies and model building with 65 new publications. But the mortality rate is still high. Sixty per cent of new magazines never celebrate their first anniversary. But hardly a week goes by without some major publishing house announcing plans for a new magazine. The latest: CondŽ Nast’s plan to start a men’s version of Lucky, its shopping magazine for women. While Gruner + Jahr is considering a US version of Gala, the high-gloss celebrity magazine, already a big success in Europe. Also in the planning stage: a lifestyle magazine for older, affluent women tentatively titled Wink. Plus a magazine for young 20-something women called Flash. Also noted: the average news-stand price of magazines here has gone up from $5.56 to $5.79 (£3.50 to £3.65) – the biggest jump since 1992 – while subscription rates have gone up, on average from $22.90 to $24.45 (£14.43 to £15.40).

Jeffrey Blyth

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