American Pie 11.11.04

With the election over, American newspapers are preparing for a decline in circulation. Already the trend is apparent. Two thirds of papers are reporting flat or falling circulations, among them the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News. The average circulation of America’s top 800 daily newspapers has fallen in the past six months by almost one per cent to under 48,000,000. For those that publish Sunday editions, the drop has been between 1.5 and three per cent. One of the few big papers to post a gain in sales has been the NY Post, which has been conducting a big sales war with its rival, the NY Daily News. The Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch, reported the biggest circulation gain in the country – up more than five per cent. It now sells slightly under 690,000 -just 25,000 fewer than The News. Meanwhile, the investigation into exaggerated circulation claims by some papers gets broader. It’s now expanded even to the NY Times, which has been asked to produce print and sales records for the past three years. This follows claims that papers such as New York’s Newsday , the Chicago Tribune and the Spanish-language paper Hoy had all been exaggerating their sales. The scandal has even spread to the supermarket tabloids. The Star , it’s alleged, has made a practice of inflating its figures by including more than 500,000 copies distributed weekly to beauty and tanning salons, spas and doctors’ surgeries. The publisher insists all copies were paid for -but declined to say by whom.

The Bush victory means the rules limiting the number of TV and radio stations and newspapers that big publishing companies can own in any one city are likely to be relaxed. Wide deregulation of the industry is expected. But not everyone is expected to take advantage-among them Rupert Murdoch. Although he has plans to expand his TV holdings, including a new financia oriented news cable network, he is not interested in expanding his newspaper empire in the US. He told the business magazine Forbes : “I wouldn’t say no, never.” But he added: “To buy a lot, or a chain of them, is unlikely”.

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau, whose comic strip Doonesbury is one of the best known (and at one time the most popular) in the US, is in danger of losing a lot of the papers that have run the strip for years. The reason? His Bush bashing. Lately the strip has provoked criticism from many editors. Specifically a strip he drew a day or two before the election, which had Vice President Dick Cheney, in one panel, saying “Tell him to go fuck himself” -an echo of a comment he made to a Congressman back in June. Thirty papers refused to run the strip- and warned they might kill it. Last year Trudeau created a similar furore when he had one of his characters curse at losing a leg in Iraq

One of America’s best-known and toughest talking journalists, Jimmy Breslin, is giving up the column he has been writing for Newsday for almost two decades. The 75year-old, who started out as a l6-year-old copyboy and made his name as one of the pioneers of the New Journalism on the Herald Tribune in the Sixties, won’t be packing away his typewriter. He would like to take a stab at a new career – writing for the movies perhaps. In his last column in Newsday , which ran on the eve of the election, he predicted Kerry would win. Was he worried he was going out with such a big error? “So I was wrong,” he declared. “Who remembers the next day? Nobody”.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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