American Pie 30.09.04

A nervous breakdown! That’s what the American Press is suffering from, suggests Tina Brown. All its latest troubles, going back to the Jayson Blair scandal, the misreporting of circulation figures by some of America’s top dailies, then the admission by CBS that its story about President Bush and his days in the National Guard may have been based on forged documents, have resulted in the Press’s credibility hitting its lowest point for 30 years, according to the latest Gallup poll. One of the reasons, it’s said, is that journalism hasn’t kept up with the information age. It is the bloggers who are the new force in journalism. It was they who blew holes in the CBS story. Although CBS has agreed to set up an investigation, there are still calls for an official Government inquiry which, so far, the Congress has resisted. Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch has made no secret of his opinion about the affair. He believes if his Fox network had committed the error, they would have been “crucified”.

LIFE is alive again. As predicted (Press Gazette 23 Sept) the once most popular and biggest selling news picture-magazine has been reincarnated – for the fifth time. Founded in 1936, it folded in 1972 because of competition from TV, then came back as a monthly, then as a weekly again during the Gulf War. Now it’s a weekly supplement to 70 American newspapers. That gives it an immediate circulation of over 12 million, making it the biggest roll-out in Time Inc’s history. Unlike its heyday, when its staff ran into hundreds, the new LIFE has a team of only 23. However, it’s printed on super-glossy paper which should give it an edge over the weekly give-aways included in so many American papers, most of them printed on regular newsprint.

Once one of the most popular teenage magazines in the US, the future of YM is now very cloudy. Its publisher, Gruner+Jahr, still reeling from the messy court case that accompanied the closing of Rosie magazine, and recent allegations about overblown newsstand sales, has decided to sell the magazine. Whether anyone is interested is not yet clear. In the wake of the inflated sales figures, YM has now reduced its rate base Рthe amount of paid circulation promised to advertisers Рfrom 2,200,000 to 1,500,000. At the same time ad pages this year are down more than 40 per cent. Companies that have been approached as potential buyers include Hachette, Time Inc and Cond̩ Nast.

For years, most American publishers have sought subscribers rather than casual newsstand buyers. Now that’s changing. Many publishers are switching to the checkout counter. Leading the way is Time Inc whose newest women’s magazine All You is being sold exclusively in Wal-Mart stores. Hachette Filipacchi, publisher of Elle and Women’s Day, is following suit with For Me, another new women’s mag that will be sold only on newsstands beginning in November. At least two other publishers, American Media and Hearst, are also considering testing the idea.

Chasing Hollywood celebrities by helicopter is not the only modern ploy of local paparazzi (Press Gazette 23 Sept). One of the most successful, British-born Mel Bouzard, has revealed that on the dashboard of his superpowered Mercedes-Benz he has a $3,000 computer programmed with the licence plate numbers of more than 400 celebrities – plus the home addresses of almost half of them.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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