American Pie 29.04.04

First the good news. Overall, newspaper sales in the US are going up – by a small percentage.

The bad news? Readership among 18 to 24-yearolds is declining. And those who do read newspapers spend a lot less time doing so than they used to. Over a week, they spend an average of less than 20 minutes a day reading a paper. At the joint annual meeting of the Newspaper Association of America and the Society of Newspaper Editors, the director of the Readership Institute, John Levine, warned that newspapers are in peril. As older readers die, they are not being replaced. Why are papers here losing or not attracting young readers? Because, said Levine, young readers in the US believe papers discriminate and promote stereotypes. Another survey that has disturbed editors says most Americans do other things at the same time as they read their paper- listen to the radio, watch TV or work on their computer. And 18 to 24-year-olds? For them newspapers can lie on the floor while they play video games or watch TV.

Journalists on a picket line! It happened at the annual meeting of Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal. Several dozen reporters and other staff were protesting at the company’s failure to negotiate a new and acceptable contract. They claim the paper is offering a wage increase of less than 2 per cent while top management get handsome rises. The head of the company is reported to be receiving a 58 per cent salary boost, while his wife, who is publisher of the WSJ, gets a 32 per cent increase. At the rally, letters were read from 15 overseas correspondents also complaining of being financially squeezed.

The protest highlight was a giant inflatable rat, nicknamed Rich, which shareholders had to pass on their way to the meeting.

Jack Kelley, the former USA Today reporter who quit after it was discovered he had been faking stories from overseas, turns out, according to an investigation, to have been fabricating from the start of his overseas career in 1991. He fabricated not eight but at least 20 major stories, lifted at least 100 passages from other papers, and billed USA Today for thousands of dollars for translators and drivers that he never paid. In a statement through his lawyer, Kelley, 43, admitted he made serious mistakes, but he remains proud, of much of the work he did in his 21 years with USA Today. The failure of USA Today, America’s biggest selling daily, to spot Kelley’s faked stories has resulted in the resignation of news editor Hal Ritter, who had been with the paper since its launch, and editor-inchief Karen Jurgenson, the first woman to hold the post. She is the second editor of a top US newspaper to resign because of a reporter’s journalistic behaviour. Howell Raines, editor of the New York Times, quit last year because of similar misdeeds by Jayson Blair, who fabricated stories.

No one escapes the new journalism inquisition.

One of America’s best known columnists, Jimmy Breslin, has been under fire for misquoting a Bible-thumping evangelist from California who is an anti-gay crusader.

In a column in Newsday, Breslin said the Rev Lou Sheldon had made disparaging remarks to him about homosexuals – including how, if you leave children at home alone, they can be kidnapped by gays who turn them into homosexuals. The trouble was the interview was back in August 1992 – and the quotes in his original story did not match exactly what he wrote this month. Newsday issued what amounted to an apology to its readers – and rebuked the columnist. Breslin, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was not that contrite. “I guess I didn’t get an A in a journalism quiz,” he said.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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