American Pie 11.03.04

Is sex no longer selling? Hard to believe, but some publishers here are beginning to wonder. In recent years, many mainstream magazines, following the success of such sex-oriented publications as Cosmopolitan, have turned to nudity, titillating headlines and graphic sex talk. There are signs the tide may be turning. Magazines such as Maxim may have reached their peak. Maxim’s news-stand circulation in the second half of last year dropped almost 15 per cent. Stuff was down 6 per cent. Even Cosmo was down almost 4 per cent. Some experts, such as Tom Reichart, an advertising professor at the University of Alabama and author of The Erotic History of Advertising, suggests that readers have become over-exposed. Magazines have pushed sex as far as it can go in today’s climate, he believes.

Although not too many Americans listened to Letter from America, the retirement of Alistair Cooke got almost as much play here as in the UK. Largely, perhaps, because of his TV programmes when he hosted Masterpiece Theatre and his books on US history. His annual lectures under the auspices of the New York branch of the Royal Television Society were must-see events for many people. In the many tributes there was one little story that was almost overlooked except by his official biographer Nick Clarke. When the veteran newsman received his honorary knighthood it was revealed that when he was born he was christened Alfred Cooke. According to Clarke, he switched to Alistair while at Cambridge because it sounded more artistic. And made a better byline.

There is a battle brewing at The Wall Street Journal. The staff are demanding a better contract, and to show they mean business have started a sort of gentlemanly go-slow, turning up late for work. The action was initiated by the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, the Journal’s quasi-union which was started back in the Sixties by, among others, a former Daily Herald sub, Eric Frankland, who worked on the Journal’s newsdesk. The association’s negotiators have rejected a new three-year contract that would have meant a wage freeze in the first year and increases in the cost of healthcare. Dow Jones, which publishes the Journal, is hoping for a negotiated settlement.

The obituary of an American called Thomas Dahlberg that ran in a Pennsylvania paper recently was the sort befitting a former CIA agent, a two-star general and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Unfortunately, the only thing accurate about the obit was Dahlberg’s name. It is a new trend. Writing your own obituary. Scores of websites and even some funeral homes now offer advice on how to write your own obit. Some come with fill-in blanks. And of course there is nothing to prevent anyone glorifying their life, not as long as newspapers continue to agree to run – for a price – self-written obituaries. “It’s something that looks as if it is here to stay,” admits Carolyn Gilbert, founder of the International Association of Obituarists.

Tina Brown is denying a report that she was offered the editorship of New York Magazine. According to the report, negotiations had reached the contract stage but fell apart over her insistence that she have absolute editorial control. “Wildly exaggerated,” insists Brown. Anyway she is too busy, she claims, writing her weekly column for The Washington Post and, her new cable TV interview show, to take on such a responsibility

By Jeffrey Blyth

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