American Pie 26.08.04

No-one is singing Happy Days Are Here Again, but the situation in the publishing industry is looking better. One of the best signs is the size of this year’s women’s fashion mags – some are as big as a telephone directory. Vogue, for example, weighs in at almost 4lbs, Wtips the scales at almost 2lbs and Elle comes close. They are some of the most ad-packed issues for years.

Vogue has nearly 700 pages of ads, up almost 14 per cent over last year, while Wis up a record 18 per cent. But they are mostly fashion ads: the trend is not so apparent in other women’s magazines. One reason is pharmaceutical ads, which have dropped almost two per cent.

Subsequently, ad pages in journals such as Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Better Homes & Gardens and Ladies Home Journal are down. One magazine under a serious cloud is Family Circle, once one of America’s biggest-selling supermarket magazines. It and its sister publications Parents and Child, all owned by German publisher Gruner+Jahr, are in danger of being sold if they don’t do better. G+J has lately had many ups and downs and has put on hold plans to launch a US version of its European celebrity magazine, Gala.

The prosecution of five more reporters for refusing to reveal sources is sending a further chill through the publishing industry here.

It’s seen as the worst-threat ever to the longstanding privilege of US journalists to protect sources. The reporters include two working for the NY Times, one for the Los Angeles Times, an AP reporter and a former staff member of CNN. Each has been fined $500 a day until they co-operate with a federal court in Washington. For the moment the fines are in abeyance while lawyers appeal. Their cases – unlike an earlier case involving the identity of a CIA employee (Press Gazette 13 Aug) – stem from the reporters’ refusal to identify informants who gave information about a Chinese-born scientist working at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory. The latest case is just one of several that some legal experts say have weakened the long-cited protection of US journalists for gathering and publishing news. There is a suspicion that if the Government wins the latest cases, the next target will be the Freedom of Information Act, passed in 1966.

Walter Cronkite, the former CBS TV anchorman once labelled “the most trusted journalist in the US”, is giving up the weekly column he has been writing for around 200 US newspapers since he left his television job. In his last column he aimed a broadside at the shallowness of TV news today. He claimed that the egos of some practitioners, many of them his former colleagues, are out of control. “We used to think of ourselves as newspapermen, until we got so hoity toity. Now we are all ‘journalists’ – a fancy word. It’s too bad we can’t call ourselves newspeople”.

Although it is called US Weekly, the bigselling celebrity magazine actually only comes out 41 times a year. Now that is being remedied and it will start hitting the newsstands weekly from now on. One reason is that, in the past six months, sales have climbed 46 per cent to almost 750,000 a week.

The rival People magazine publishes 51 times a year.

Plans are going ahead for a crime magazine, to be called Justice, which will focus on true-life stories from the Martha Stewart stock trading scandal to the on-going Laci Peterson murder trial. Justice – with a target circulation of 250,000 – is due out early next year.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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