American Pie 23.01.06

by Jeffrey Blyth

The kidnapping of Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor’s stringer in Baghdad, resulted in a hasty re-look by most US media organizations at their safety plans for their staff in Iraq. The 28 year old newswoman was the 36th reporter to be kidnapped in Iraq, Six of whom, previously, had been killed.. All of which emphasized what many journalists have been saying lately that Iraq is now one of the most dangerous places for journalists, especially American.

Many news organizations here are now holding regular meetings and sharing safety information.. It’s agreed that freelancers like Ms Carroll operate with little or no protection. She stayed in a cheap hotel, ate meals in local restaurants and relied on the fact that by wearing local style clothes, including head scarves and abayas, and spoke a little Arabic she could merge into the background.

One of the problems of freelancers is that they are not normally covered by their organisation’s insurance – and don’t usually have bodyguards. One newsman, Richard Engel, of NBC, who has spent three years in Iraq, told USA Today that being kidnapped is nowadays a very big worry. “You start off thinking it will never happen to you. The next stage is “it might happen” Then comes a time when you say to yourself “I’ve been here long enough, it’s probably going to happen.” And then, finally, you say to yourself “I’ve got to get out of here”

What stage is he in? “Between two and three” he respond.ed. Most journalists covering Iraq say that kidnapping is now their biggest worry. Most print reporters can work without attracting too much attention. Television reporters and photojournalists have a more difficult time. But as the kidnapping of Jill Carroll proved, even print journalists are finding life more perilous. .

Most newspapers here are delighted when the number of log-ons to their website go up. But not the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. both of which had to at least temporarily shut down sections of their websites when they were deluged by calls from angry readers. In The Washington Post case it was the result of comments about the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the Al Capone look-alike, who is accused to “buying” the support of American legislators with money and free golf trips to St Andrews. It created a fire-storm. Many of the comments, the paper said, were “foul” , so much so that its was decided to pull the plug on the website’s comment section . A similar thing happened at the LA Times when it invited readers to send in comments to its editorials. The paper was overwhelmed with nasty e-mails, many of them pornographic. As one commentator pointed out in the old days when a reader didn’t like something in their paper they had to find a pen, a piece of paper, an envelope and a stamp to make their feelings heard. Nowadays angry readers can reach their newspaper with a click of a computer key. And there are very few inhibitions.

Despite the big drop- off in advertising, a staggering 257 new magazines were launched in the US last year.. New magazines for women led the list with 31 new titles, followed by 27 “lifestyle” magazines, 23 new sports magazines and l3 targeting African-Americans, and another 13 aimed at the Hispanic-Latino audience. In what is a new trend, more than ten of the new titles started out as web-sites or on-line editions. One of the fastest growing segments are magazines aimed at the Spanish-reading audience. In the past ten years Hispanic titles have increased from 124 in 1996 to 329 today.

The Disney company is launching a new magazine for the parents of very young children. Called Wondertime, its first new magazine for more than 15 years, it will be targeted at parents who are concerned, perhaps even obsessed, by the education of their childen, especially those under six. In the past most Disney publications have been tied into its amusement parks and holiday resorts. One of its most popular publications was called Family Fun.,

The first issue of Wondertime includes articles on what babies know within hours of being born, like how to mimic a parent. One reason Disney is entering the new field is the success lately of such publications as American Baby, BabyTalk and Parents, all of which have lately enjoyed an increase in ads, some as much as six per cent in the past year, Also Cookie, a recently launched “style” magazine aimed at wealthy parents Wondertime will also have as its target well educated mothers with higher–than-average incomes.

. When some magazines fold there often all sorts of excuses . But one of the most famous – and oldest – in the US is blaming the end of the Cold War. For more than 80 years The New Leader, although founded as an organ of the American Socialist Party, was probably one of the most Liberal publications in the country. At one time in the late Sixties it had a circulation of over 30,000. Originally a broadsheet, it became a tabloid and then a weekly magazine. More recently, as its circulation declined, it became a monthly then a bi-monthly. Its politics changed too – until it was rabidly ant-Communist, an outspoken voice which reported at length on the Moscow trials., the cold war and the Russian prison system. Its contributors included Bertrand Russell, George Orwell, Willy Brandt, Hubert Humphrey and Arthur Schlesinger., most of whom wrote for a token payment.. In its heyday it was, some said, must reading in Moscow. It published secret speeches of Nikita Krushchev and the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn . Some claimed it received secret support from the CIA But with the decline of the Cold War its circulation dwindled to little more than 10,000 – and began losing money heavily. In fact it was once said the end of the cold war was the worst thing that happened to The New Leader. As its long-time editor 76-year-old Myron Kolatch who has been with the paper since 1961 said, announcing that its final issue will come out next month: “There is all the money you want on the right, also money on the left., But not much if you are in the middle. It’s sad”

Tina Brown, as the New York Post put it, is taking a break. Working hard to finish her new (as yet untitled) book on Princess Di, due out early next year, the former editor of Vanity Fair and Talk, and wife of former London editor Harry Evans, has dropped – only temporarily she hopes – the weekly column she has been writing for The Washington Post and the NY Sun. Both papers insist they will be holding space for her.

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