American Pie 20.05.04

The foreign press may not be getting the red carpet treatment at this year’s American political conventions (Press Gazette, 13 May) but there is one group of journalists that is receiving – to most people’s surprise – a glad hand. They are the “bloggers” – the offbeat journalists who produce their own reports on e-mail sites. The Democrats (but not yet the Republicans) have agreed to give credentials to any bloggers who apply to cover their preelection get-together in Boston in September. First to apply for a pass: a 21-year-old neophyte journalist, Jesse Taylor, who runs a website called Pandagon, which claims 12,000 readers a day. The belief of the convention organisers is that giving bloggers press credentials may bring in a lot of young voters. However, the regular press is looking at the idea askance. The relationship of the bloggers with the regular press is likely to be somewhat strained. Anti-blogger sentiment was summed up by a spokesman for the House of Representatives who handles press credentials: “Anyone with a home computer can call themselves whatever they want – but it doesn’t make them a news organisation.”

As the American election grows closer, newspapers here are wondering how many of their online visitors are interested in politics. More than they thought. A survey by the Newspaper Association of America found that 29 per cent of online newspaper readers are “very interested in: government, politics and elections”. Visitors to online newspaper sites, at least here, are 41 per cent more likely to have attended a political meeting, rally or dinner. They are 39 per cent more likely to have worked for a political candidate and 38 per cent more likely to have written a letter, or e-mailed someone, about a political subject. These are politically big numbers, commented one political analyst. And proof, perhaps, that US newspaper readers are not so bored with politics as many have claimed.

The oldest Western newsman in Baghdad? It’s probably John Burns. He will be 60 next birthday – twice as old as most of his colleagues. Although he works for The New York Times, Burns was born in Britain. His father was a high-ranking RAF officer in the Second World War. Raised in Canada, he started in journalism on the Toronto Globe and Mail. During 30 years with The New York Times he has worked almost everywhere in the world. He confesses: “Sometimes I find it hard to believe I am the oldest man around.” He was 26 when he first went to China as a foreign correspondent. He still finds the job challenging. This is his second spell in Iraq. Last year, on his return to his family in England he was near exhaustion and his heartbeat was erratic. It wasn’t the stress of reporting from Iraq, he insists, but the huge amount of tea he had been consuming – 25 to 35 cups a day. Enough caffeine, he suggests, to kill Earl Grey himself.

American Media, which owns Star, the former supermarket tabloid now a glossy celebrity weekly, is threatening to sue its rival, Us magazine, for affixing the word “Star” to several of its columns – for example “Star Beauty” and “Star Style”. A spokesman for Us said they were not exactly shaking in their boots, adding that People magazine has for years run a column called “Star Tracks”, while InStyle has a feature called “Star File”. What’s next? Perhaps American Media will demand that astrology magazines no longer refer to the “sun”, or atlases should stop using the term “globe” because American Media also publishes The Sun and The Globe.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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