American Pie - 01.04.05

There was
a time when the BBC’S American staff enjoyed the most prestigious
offices in New York, virtually a whole floor in Rockefeller Centre in
mid-town Manhattan. There, any day, one might run into Alistair Cooke,
Simon Winchester, David Frost, John Humphrys or Charles Wheeler – all
of whom made regular broadcasts from the glass-faced studios.

rents in Manhattan began to soar, the offices closed and the staff
became ‘lodgers’ at other broadcast centres. Now, a decade later, they
are getting together again and despite the belt-tightening in Britain,
the 40 or so BBC staff in New York are moving into spanking new offices
on New York’s West Side, in what is virtually a new Media Centre. They
will share space with the NY Daily News, US News and World Report and
the Associated Press. Starting in June, the BBC will begin broadcasting
its World Business Report – seen in some 200 or more countries around
the world – plus segments of its nightly news, from the new facility.
Chief NY correspondent Jeremy Hillman is happy with the move. “It will
be nice at last to have everyone together under one roof.”


long does it take to read a newspaper? According to the Washington
Post, it takes 24 to 25 hours. Every morning in a Washington basement
office, a team of eight volunteers read the Washington Post into
computerized tape recorders for the benefit of the visually impaired.
The only sections they don’t read are the classified ads and the stock
prices. Stewart Brown, Scottish-born administrator for the service –
called Washington Ear – says he has a list of hundreds of volunteer
readers – some of them aspiring broadcasters.


staff here have launched a series of by-line strikes – there is even a
possibility of a major walk-out. Staff are upset that many US staff are
being replaced with reporters in Bangalore. They are also perturbed
that while they face a cutback in wages, top executives have received
substantial raises in the past three years. Says union leader Barry
Lipton: “Our members are asking why they should give Reuters one iota
of their talent and effort more than required, while being asked to
accept less and the bosses are cleaning up.” There is similar unrest at
the New York Times, where staff have been asked to forego a promised 3
per cent pay hike. The paper says it faces a $4 million shortfall this
year in its health and benefit plans.


Recent court
cases in which reporters have been threatened with jail if they don’t
reveal their sources, are having an effect. In the past year, the
number of anonymous sources in American newspapers has dropped
dramatically. In a study of 16 newspapers of varying size, just seven
per cent last year attributed information to anonymous sources. A year
earlier a similar study found that 29 per cent of stories contained at
least one un-named source. Other findings: Big newspapers are more
likely to use anonymous sources than smaller papers – 12 per cent
compared to just three per cent. But it’s not just the fear of court
action that is leading to the cut-back. Many readers, the study found,
do not like anonymous sources.


kinder and gentler Penthouse! That’s the plan of the new owners of the
onceraunchy men’s mag that Bob Guccione started in the late Sixties.
The new owners, a venture capital company in Florida, plan to spend $80
million to relaunch the magazine. At its peak in the Seventies,
Penthouse sold 5 million copies a month. Last year, sales were down to
under 400,000. Some months the magazine didn’t even come out. Staff
complained they were only getting paid 25 per cent of the time.


Murdoch can look forward to moving into his new home, a three-level
penthouse on Manhatten’s Fifth Ave, overlooking Central Park. The
apartment – previously owned by multi-millionaire Lawrence Rockefeller
– was priced at $44 million – the most ever paid for a Manhattan

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