American Pie 08.07.04

With the Olympics in Greece just weeks away, many sports editors here are worried about the safety of their reporters who will be covering the Games. News organisations have called in security firms that specialise in training sessions for reporters covering war zones, to put sports writers through their courses. Reporters working for Newsday, the Long Island daily, have already been briefed by security experts. Other papers, such as The Washington Post, have asked newsmen who are back from Iraq to give sports writers headed for Athens the benefit of their experience. The San Francisco Chronicle is planning safety seminars for its staff. There is also concern that increased security may make covering the games, and getting to each event, somewhat arduous. The potential problems have diminished some papers’ enthusiasm. Philadelphia Inquirer sports editor Jim Jenks confessed: “I don’t get the feeling that anyone is as excited about them as they are usually.”

The scandal of the phantom readers (Press Gazette, 2 July) is growing. There have been firings in the circulation departments of some of the papers accused of inflating figures. Are magazines as guilty? During the legal wrangles between talkshow host Rosie O’Donnell and Grüner+Jahr over the folding of Rosie, it was revealed that the magazine’s newsstand sales had been inflated almost 50 per cent in 2002 to hide faltering demand. There was also a revelation that G+J’s teen magazine YM had overstated its 2001 news-stand sales by more than 200,000. One trick is to continue sending copies to people whose subscriptions have expired for longer than rules permit. Also, some magazines have been missing their rate base – the number of paid subscribers promised to advertisers – and not saying so. It is claimed the US edition of Maxim over-estimated its paid circulation by an average of 10,000 copies a month for the 12 months ending June 2003.

In Washington they are still talking about the tough interview of President Bush, on the eve of his recent trip to Europe, by Carole Coleman, the Washington correspondent for Irish public TV network RTE. Unlike many US journalists, Coleman asked him tough questions about the mounting death toll in Iraq, the setbacks being experienced by Coalition forces and European opposition to the war. Afterwards a Bush aide told the Irish Independent that the White House felt she had “overstepped the bounds of politeness”. Many Washington journalists privately applauded her – and even suggested that one of the big US networks offer her the job of White House correspondent. “It would be Ireland’s loss, but America’s gain,” said one.

In his campaign against anonymous informants, new ombudsman for The New York Times Daniel Okrent suggested Associated Press, plus America’s five largest newspapers – USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The New York Times- should agree not to cover briefings conducted by Government officials and other political figures who refuse to allow their names to be used. So far, no response from any of the organisations involved.

Donald Trump is trying to make his name as a publisher. He is launching Trump World, a glossy bi-monthly that he has tested on his hotel and casino customers, and is now planning to sell on newsstands. His target is high-end affluent readers who, like Trump, live lavishly and spend a lot. Which is perhaps why he plans to charge $5.95 (£3.27) a copy.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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