American Pie 28.08.03

Although it’s almost two years since a still unknown biological terrorist attacked the headquarters of the National Enquirer and its sister tabloids, the offices in Florida are still not certified free of anthrax. Teams of workers in “moon suits” will shortly descend on the offices and begin chemically destroying everything inside. That includes the desks and notebooks of the reporters and editors working there that day, their telephones, personal photos, even the canteen trays they were eating from when the anthrax (which killed the Enquirer’s British picture editor ) was discovered. Plus 50 years of files and records, clippings and photographs, including slightly out of focus prints of Elvis Presley in his coffin, millions of clippings about John F Kennedy and his extra-marital affairs, the trial of O J Simpson and, of course, the search for Bigfoot. “It was a phenomenal library,” laments Kathleen Cottay, the chief librarian who was able to save only a few prized pictures when she and her 350 co-workers were ordered to evacuate the building. “Today everything is electronically archived, but not then.” The decontamination and disposal is likely to cost several million dollars.

Advertising in magazines here may be up but sales are declining. Hardest hit have been titles devoted to fashion, entertainment and finance. Better Homes & Gardens, Cosmopolitan, Maxim, Inc and Vanity Fair have all suffered. Experts blame competition from the internet and price increases at news-stands. Reader’s Digest and Family Circle have seen double-digit declines. Fast Company lost 55 per cent between January and June, Money was down 29 per cent and Fortune down 12 per cent. Because Wal-Mart has cracked down on bawdy titles, Maxim and similar lads’ mags are down. However, O: The Oprah Magazine is up 37 per cent.

Also attracting ads but few readers is Hi, the publication that the State Department recently launched in the Middle East – at a cost of over $2.5m (£1.58m) – in the hope of winning the hearts and minds of young Arabs. It was intended as a “bridge” between the US and the Middle East. The first issue sold for the equivalent of $2 (£1.26) in about 15 Arab countries. Initial sales have not been encouraging. One problem has been the “vice squads” that keep watch on magazines sold in Muslim countries. One early complaint was the woman on the cover should not have been photographed without a scarf or sleeves. Also, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia have not yet allowed it to go on sale. Undeterred, the State Department has budgeted $4m (£2.52m) for 12 more issues next year.

Stories about how much US editors and some journalists get paid should be taken with the proverbial dash of salt. But there is little doubt that Bonnie Fuller, the wonder-editor from Canada who has the task of transforming the tabloids owned by American Media, is probably the highest paid woman editor in the country. At Us magazine, from which she jumped ship, she had been offered $1m (£635,000) a year in salary, plus lots of perks.

American Media is reportedly paying her $1.5m (£952,000) in company stock, an equivalent amount in salary, plus a huge bonus if she succeeds in putting up sales, a car and driver and $18,000 (£11,400) a year for a personal trainer and gym. Ironically, new circulation figures show that the news stand sales of Us, up almost 25 per cent over the first 18 months of Fuller’s editorship, were slowing to a crawl in the months before she left.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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