American Pie 05.02.04

US publishers are shocked at some of the trends shown by the latest research figures on how Americans use their spare time. For example, the figures indicate that most spend at least 20 hours a week listening to the radio and another 34 hours a week watching either cable, satellite or broadcast TV. What alarms publishers is that the amount of time spent reading newspapers is down to three hours a week – less than half an hour a day. Listening to music gets more attention. As for magazines, the average American spends only two hours a week reading them – about the same amount of time they spend reading books. But TV executives have no reason to be complacent.  The figures indicate most younger US men are watching less TV and spending more time playing video games or watching DVDs.

To mark the 40th anniversary of The Beatles’ first trip to the US, Columbia Records and Apple Corp set up a hunt for some of the people who were photographed with the Fab Four when they first landed in New York. Among them, a mop-haired little girl photographed in Central Park perched on the shoulders of John Lennon. She turned out to be Debbie Fyall, the five-year-old daughter of Daily Express man Andy Fyall, who had been assigned to cover the Beatles tour and took his daughter along to meet them. Married with her own eight-year-old daughter, Debbie now lives in Alexandria, Virginia. A framed copy of the picture has hung in her kitchen for many years. The picture, almost needless to say, was taken by another former Express man, photographer Harry Benson.

Cleaning up its act – somewhat – is Penthouse. Saved from bankruptcy by an infusion of new capital from a German company, the magazine, once renowned for its explicit sex pictures and stories, is going to have a major makeover before its relaunch later this year. The new Penthouse will target readers of lad mags such as Maxim. With a cleaned-up image, it hopes to get back into supermarkets and US military bases. One of its biggest blows was in the Nineties when the Pentagon barred it from its bases because of its hard-core content, resulting in its circulation plummeting from 3m to 300,000.

The days when reporters carried just a notebook and change for a telephone call have long gone. Today’s correspondents are weighed down with equipment ranging from wireless laptops to digital tape recorders. On the campaign trail in New Hampshire, a TV journalist working for ABC News, 25-year-old Deborah Apton, agreed to show all the equipment she was carrying – and how much it weighed. Starting with her mobile phone, its charging equipment, her laptop, earphones and pagers and moving up to a digital video camera, it looked like an electronics shop display counter. The total weight: more than 18kg.

He was an editor who didn’t let facts get in the way of a good story. Eddie Clontz, who died in Florida at the age of 56, was for almost 20 years editor of Weekly World News, the sensational sister of The National Enquirer. It was the magazine that found missing Second World War bombers on the moon and claimed the death of Elvis Presley was a hoax. He also claimed a Russian spacecraft had photographed heaven. Although he never worked in Fleet Street, Clontz hired many British newsmen, often paid twice the salary they would have earned on a regular paper. The Washington Post reported his death with an appropriate headline: “Aliens Beam Editor to Tabloid Heaven.”

by Jeffrey Blyth

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