American Pie 21.05.01

Rupert Murdoch is rapidly being eclipsed here these days by Felix Dennis. Of course, anyone who launches three new magazines when other publishers are drawing in their horns is certain to attract attention. On the news-stands here is the US version of The Week, a new music magazine called Blender and a new quarterly, Maxim Fashion. But no one is calling Dennis crazy. The Week has had encouraging reviews, sales are strong. Only Jann Wenner, the rival publisher of Rolling Stone, has been snippy about Blender. "It’s like a mini-Maxim" was his verdict. While Maxim Fashion, it is predicted, will pick up a following from would-be rock stars or their fans who want to buy crystal-studded leather pants. Although Dennis’s sybaritic lifestyle is being compared with the now-aging Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, no one is criticising his business acumen. "He knows exactly what he is doing. He finds an audience and gives them exactly what they want," says Samir Husni, a professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi and noted expert on US magazines. Dennis’s teaming up with Harry Evans, The Week’s consulting editor, is also considered smart.

The future of one of the three US news weeklies seems to be getting cloudy. US News & World Report, which is owned by Mort Zuckerman, the big US real-estate developer who also owns the New York Daily News, has been losing circulation (and ads) faster than its rivals Time and Newsweek. In January, US News put out its smallest-ever issue – just 56 pages. And earlier this month it devoted almost an entire issue to the best boarding schools in the US – a topic likely to interest only a very limited (and wealthy) readership. In Washington, where it’s published, there is talk of a possible shift in focus – from a general news weekly to a magazine centred on science and history.

How can you call a magazine a monthly if it only comes out 11 times a year? That’s the dilemma facing The Atlantic Monthly, which after a massive redesign is to scrap an issue. July and August will be combined. Editor Michael Kelly says readers will be compensated with a never-before-published story by Mark Twain. Meanwhile the magazine has no plans to drop "Monthly" from its title.

Crime can be legally profitable – in cyberspace. One of the most popular websites here these days is Gangland News, started by a former crime reporter on the New York Daily News, Jerry Capeci, who specialised in covering The Mob and has written several books on US crime. So knowledgeable is he about the activities of the US’s biggest crime families that his site is visited weekly by scores of journalists, lawyers, FBI agents, police – and even members of the Mafia itself. It has a regular audience of almost 2,000 and gets more than a million hits (the non-lethal sort) every month. The site has become the equivalent of an online chat room for mobsters. Capeci claims it is even read by mobsters who are in jail – or "away at college" as he puts it. "They get their wives or girlfriends to mail them print-outs" he explains. Capeci, in his Daily News days, was considered the consummate crime reporter. "He even talks like one," says a colleague. "He’s the last of the old breed." Gangland News – because it attracts a lot of advertising – is one of the few news websites that can claim to make money. "We’re in the black," boasts the 56-year-old ex-crime reporter in his Brooklyn accent.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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