American Pie 29.07.05

Noticed
how the image of journalists, as portrayed by Hollywood, has been
changing? Probably the last time newspapermen were portrayed positively
was in All The President’s Men, the movie about Washington Post
journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (right), who broke the
Watergate scandal. But that was in 1976. Since then, it’s been pretty
much downhill all the way. In one recent film, Cinderella Man, a boxing
movie starring Russell Crowe, reporters are portrayed so badly that
many reviewers criticised the movie. Then there is Paparazzi, a movie
that chronicles the bad behaviour of photographers stalking
celebrities. What went wrong? First, when Watergate was the big story,
tabloid TV was not the force it is today.

Cable TV news was in
its infancy. And – most important – public respect for journalism was
much greater. Today it’s at a low ebb, fuelled by the Jayson Blair
scandal, CBS having to publicly rowback on its attack on President
Bush’s military record and, more recently, Newsweek’s retraction of its
story about a copy of The Koran being flushed down a toilet at
Guantanamo. In the most recent poll, only 28 per cent of Americans said
they had much confidence in the media. Will things change? Some here
say it’s unlikely. Even the NY Times’ Judith Miller’s sacrifice in
going to jail rather than revealing the name of one of her sources is
not expected to change the current public image of journalism in
America, and least of all in Hollywood.

Once it had the largest circulation of any magazine in the world. Today,
Reader’s Digest still sells 10 million copies and feels it plays an
important role in journalism. It has just celebrated its 1,000th issue,
which is a milestone for any publication. At the celebration party in
New York, a big play was not made of the past, but the future, with the
emphasis on new technology and such things as “Fourteen trends that
will change your life” – the cover story of the anniversary issue.
(Remember when the cover of the Digest was just a list of the stories
inside?) Although many regard the magazine as old-fashioned, it still
has influence. Last year, an article about a children’s hospital
resulted in one affluent reader donating $1m to the hospital. And some
of its features have a loyal audience. For example, Laughter is the
Best Medicine, to which readers contribute their own funny stories and
jokes, receives an astonishing 10,000 pieces of mail every month.

Another
magazine that was also number one in its field is planning some major
changes. TV Guide, which once had a circulation of just under 20
million, but has been falling over the past three decades, is now
contemplating a one-third cut in sales from its current level of nine
million. It’s all because of how most TV viewers now get their news and
programme listings. Many now get them off the web, from TV itself or
from the free TV guides in Sunday papers. To counter this, TV
Guide, which is owned by a Murdoch subsidiary, Gemstar International,
is considering a big editorial revamp, which will include more news
about celebrities. The magazine is also expected to drop its
pocket-size format – which would give it more prominence on the
newsstands and on check-out lines. It’s considering giving more
attention to male readers to match its recent launch of an off-shoot
called Inside TV, aimed at women. But its biggest target will be younger readers.

Launching
an American edition of OK! is not proving as easy as Richard Desmond,
might have hoped. Finding a plant that can accommodate the new mag’s
timetable has been a problem. Because there are now so many glossy
celeb magazines, the presses are overbooked.

Most magazines such
as Us and People go to press midweek to make newsstands by the weekend.
As a result, OK! may have to print on Mondays, which could make it
difficult to get late-breaking stories into print. Then there’s the
problem of spaces in supermarket check-out lines. Desmond has lined up,
it’s reported, some 85,000 “pockets”, as they are called – at a cost of
some $6m. The first three weeks the magazine will sell for $1.99 (about
£1.25) but eventually will be priced at $3.29 (about £1.90).

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