American Pie 02.12.04

Are newspapers in the dire peril that some are predicting? Yes, if one studies some recent surveys. The Washington Post, faced with declining sales (a drop of more than six per cent in the past year) commissioned a series of focus groups. Some of the participants said they would not be interested in subscribing to or taking The Post, even if it were free. Imagine the shudders that caused among the top executives. It is not that young people don’t read. One explanation (and the pollsters insist they didn’t make this up) is that many young people don’t like the idea of old newspapers piling up in their homes. For this reason, and the fact that they believe information should not be paid for, many youngsters now rely on the internet for news. The Post’s surveys mirror the results of a study conducted in September by the Online Publishers’ Association, which found that more 18-to-34-year-olds (46 per cent) are more apt to log on to the internet than watch TV, read a book, listen to the radio, read a newspaper or flip through a magazine . One 27year-old confessed he only bought a newspaper once every two or three months. So are newspapers truly doomed? Some experts here are giving them no more than another 30 years.

The imminent departure of Dan Rather from the anchor desk at CBS News has raised the question: who will replace him? The odds are that it will be another man and a white one at that. With few exceptions that has been the way since the 1940s. It’s true that there are women on local television and some of them from minorities. But not at the big networks. Only two women – Barbara Walters and Connie Chung – have co-anchored network news and neither lasted more than a few years. “It’s surprising that all three network newscasts are still anchored by white men,” says Joe Foote, a professor of journalism at the University of Oklahoma who has just completed a 20-year study of women and minorities in network news. “If all three anchor chairs remain in the hands of white men forever, that would be a mistake,” says Prof Foote.

In 1964 Daily Express photographer Harry Benson travelled with The Beatles on their first visit to America. He never went back and became one of the best-known photographers in America. Now a second generation Benson is in American journalism. Tessa Benson, Harry’s 25-year-old daughter, has been appointed the first West Coast editor of Self magazine. As such one of her jobs will be persuading celebrities to appear in the magazine and pose for pictures. Will it help that she has such a famous father? Particularly one who has photographed almost every celebrity from President Reagan to Muhammad Ali. “It can’t hurt” she admits. “But its not something I am pushing.”

A Cosmo for dogs is the latest new magazine on the shelves here. New York Dog is aimed at New Yorkers who treat their pets like children. It deals with diet, health, therapy and even runs obituaries and horoscopes for dogs. In its first issue there is an article on how to give your dog a make-over (“From Scruffy to Fluffy”) and never-before seen pictures of Jackie Onassis and her pet poodles.

Never mind obits for dogs, the newest moneymaker at some cash-strapped newspapers is paid-for obituaries. The latest to charge for obits is the Providence Journal . For the famous there is no charge, but for the not-so-famous an obit now costs as much as $50 an inch.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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