American Pie 29.07.04

Journalists covering the Republican Party convention in New York at the end of August can look forward to really royal treatment. A new press centre has been created across the street from Madison Square Garden for the 15,000 journalists who have requested accreditation. A temporary bridge – costing almost $1m – joins the two buildings so that no-one need run a gauntlet of would-be street demonstrators. Workplaces have been assigned, phone lines installed. There are supplies of notebooks and pencils. But most of all, the journalists will enjoy many of the same privileges as the delegates, including an upscale cafeteria, serving smoked salmon sandwiches, corn and peaches and French-style croque monsieurs, a complimentary barbershop, free shoeshines, even a concierge service to help journalists do any last minute shopping, have their shirts laundered, make restaurant reservations or find tickets for Broadway shows. It’s all part of the city’s attempt to impress visiting journalists. Some news organisations, especially those with rules against accepting freebies, view the plans somewhat askance. Some have told staff they must, if they can, pay for any services they receive. And what is Boston – where the rival Democratic Party convention is due to begin this week – doing? Nothing special, the city insists.

After more than 65 years in Manhattan’s prestigious Rockefeller Plaza, the Associated Press has moved to new, larger – and somewhat cheaper – premises on the industrial West Side. Fifty Rock, as it was popularly known, was for generations the base for many foreign news organisations. Among them the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, Daily Herald, Agence France Presse and even Tass. When it first set up shop in New York the news co-operative was housed in a sparse office up 78 stairs on Broadway near what was to become the World Trade Center. It moved to Rockefeller Center in 1938. Over the years it outgrew the space. Midtown rents also soared. Its new offices cover two square blocks of the city with a newsroom the size of two football fields.

The New York Times, still recovering from its plagiarism and fake stories scandals, is now being taken to task for the way it treats women. Although they comprise 40 per cent of reporters in the US, according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, just 32 per cent of the Times’s reporters are women. During one week in May they had only seven bylines on the front page, compared with 51 for men, and on one day there were no women’s by-lines at all. And while the sports pages, understandably, had the fewest women writers (just 7 per cent of the bylines), even book reviews are male dominated. There is also only one regular woman columnist. Is the glass ceiling as shatterproof elsewhere? Although women fill about half the professional and managerial posts in the US, the number in newsrooms has barely changed since 1982, despite an increase in the number graduating from journalism schools.

Magazine magnate Felix Dennis is about to embark on a two-week tour of the US to promote his latest book of poems, A Glass Half Empty. He is prepared to spend up to $60,000 of his own money, a lot of it on a private jet to fly him to such cities as Miami and Minneapolis, plus a plentiful supply of wine to serve at receptions. In fact, he expects to serve at least 11,000 glasses. “And not cheap stuff either” he says. “We will be serving wine that costs from $25 to $100 a bottle.” Dennis says he spends three hours a day composing his poems, whose themes range from love and sex to politics.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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