American Pie 09.08.01


Should it be stand-up or sit-down news? That’s the question of the moment in the TV business here. More and more anchors report standing up these days. It’s not because there is a shortage of chairs or desks. Surveys show that news announcers who stand up command more attention from viewers and appear more authoritative. CNN was one of the first to try it, even transferring its news anchors and correspondents in Washington from the studio to the building’s roof. Now the networks have followed suit. The only exception is Peter Jennings of ABC, though sometimes he moves from a chair to a stool. Says a CNN executive: "Having an anchor stand removes a barrier between the viewer – and frees up much of the screen for other video and data." The trouble is, once everyone does it, no one will enjoy an advantage. "Soon, someone will have to do the news lying down in order to stand out," quipped one producer.


When it is officially switched on, probably in November, the electric billboard on the side of the new Reuters building in New York is expected to be the most dazzling on Times Square. Designed and built at a cost of more than $20m (£14m), the sign is 284ft high and 16ft wide. Images arriving from Reuters photographers around the world will appear first at the top of the sign, slide down to street level and then turn a corner and disappear through the building’s front door. A red background will signal breaking news. Edwin Schlossberg, whose firm took four years to design and build the sign, calls it "beauty in chaos". Reuters officials prefer to say it’s a sign of the company’s "coming of age" in the new technology-driven news business.


Although not the first journalist here to go to prison for refusing to reveal a source, the jailing of Texan freelance writer Vanessa Leggett for contempt of court, after refusing to hand over notes and tape recordings she collected while researching a book on a sensational local murder, has got news executives here concerned. They fear new attorney general John Ashcroft may be reversing a policy which has given journalists wide latitude in protecting their sources. The 33-year-old reporter, who was locked up in mid-July, said from jail: "I am not a martyr, but I am doing what I must to protect the public’s interest in a free press." The Justice Department does not, however, consider her a bona fide journalist and does not believe she is protected by the same rules. Nevertheless, many journalists’ organisations here have protested at her detention. Some on the grounds that the Government is seeking to define who is a legitimate journalist. The last time a federal court jailed a journalist for refusing to divulge information was in 1991.


US Magazine started as a weekly, then went fortnightly, before a spell as a monthly. Last year it reverted again to weekly publication. As if that wasn’t confusing enough, the title, owned these days by Jan Wenner, is once again said to be considering switching to a monthly. The word is that Michael Eisner, head of Disney, who earlier this year committed $50m (£35m) to the publication, is concerned at the speed the money is being burned up. In what’s seen as the end of the daisy chain, Redbook has hired back its former executive editor, Ellen Kunes, as editor-in-chief following the departure of Lesley Jane Seymour to Marie Claire.

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