American Pie 18.12.03

It seemed a wonderful windfall, a bit like winning the lottery, when $100m (£57m) was left to small, struggling, century-old magazine Poetry. But the money, which was bequeathed by would-be, but never published, poet Ruth Lilly, also the heir to a giant pharmaceutical fortune, is turning out to be a mixed blessing.

The Chicago-based magazine has moved to more spacious quarters and the staff has been increased from four to six. But the new-found wealth has created problems: lengthy meetings with lawyers, sessions with financial experts keen to help Poetry invest its money. And, of course, the begging letters (some in verse) from struggling poets. The magazine, which published the early works of TS Eliot, Ezra Pound and Carl Sandburg, has tripled the rates it pays authors and poets to $6 (£3.43) a line for poetry and $150 (£86) a page for prose. It also hopes to increase the number of poems it publishes each year (currently around 300). The burning question now is: how do you spend $100m on poetry? One of the magazine’s editors admits: “For 90 years we were beggars. Now it’s complicated… and awkward. Somehow poetry and money doesn’t mix.”

They are not yet dancing on the desks or singing “Happy Days are Here Again”, but after several years of an advertising fall-off US newspapers believe the worst is over. It’s being forecast that the advertising recession may end this coming year. It may not be a big boost — possibly only in the single digits – but the signs are there. Ad spending for 2003 is expected to top $250bn (£143bn), up 5 per cent on 2002. The forecast for next year: just over $266bn (£152bn).

Newspapers are expected to benefit most, helped by 2004 being election and Olympic year. However, magazines are still in the doldrums, with most magazine ad pages down in the past quarter.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association – sponsor of the Golden Globes Award – is now the subject of a television documentary, Hollywood’s Dirty Little Secret, which once again asks, “who are the members of the FPA?” Mostly, they are freelance journalists working for little-known publications around the world.

Journalists who work for big newspapers are rarely welcomed – least of all British. The documentary’s producer claims that FPA members are more interested in having their pictures taken with the stars than watching the films. That and the free shrimps at the celebrity receptions.

If Howard Dean is elected president, the big media will have to watch out. The former Governor of Vermont has declared he is opposed to giant media enterprises. He has said there is a danger of media companies can penetrate deeply into every community – meaning single ownership of local newspapers, radio and TV stations. He also claims that 11 companies in the US control 90 per cent of what Americans can read or watch on TV. “That’s wrong,” he declared.

Maxim is going literary by running excerpts from three works of fiction and one non-fiction book in its end-of-the-year issue. Admits US editor Greg Williams: “It’s the most words we have ever put on any of Maxim’s pages.” If readers like looking at something more than pictures, it will become a twice-a-year feature.

A thought for New Year: “A great editor can help make 10 great writers. But 100 great writers can’t make a good editor” – Esquire.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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