American Pie 20.11.03

How did The Wall Street Journal’s circulation jump 16 per cent when most papers were experiencing a decline or at best their figures were flat? The answer is the web. Circulation rules now allow publications here to include online subscribers in circulations. The WSJ is probably the biggest beneficiary. Its website has almost 700,000 paying subscribers, of whom 300,000 can be included in the paper’s circulation figure. That means an official circulation of 2.1 million, its highest ever. It puts The WSJ close on the heels of the topselling USA Today, with an official circulation of 2,247,000. Is the new rule fair? Most US papers don’t charge their online subscribers. The New York Times, for example, has only 3,000 paying subscribers to its electronic edition. Its circulation is officially just more than 1,118,000. As for USA Today, which makes no charge for its online edition, a spokesman said if the paper and web readers were combined its circulation would be 6.8 million.

No one won. It was a draw. All that remains is to decide who pays the legal costs – Rosie O’Donnell or Gruner+Jahr? The judge who listened to the claims of both sides for multimillion-dollar damages stemming from the folding of Rosie, the magazine, said the suits should never have been brought; they were a waste of time. Neither side, he ruled, deserved a penny in damages. O’Donnell’s final word as she left the courthouse was to describe her former publishers as “morons”. What will she do now? Apart, that is, from backing the Broadway version of the Boy George show Taboo. She did say she would like to have another crack at magazine publishing. “No way. She should stick to showbiz,” was how one magazine consultant put it.

Forty years later we are still learning things about the coverage of the Kennedy assassination. Most Americans first heard the news from Walter Cronkite, the famed television newscaster, who broke the news with a bulletin from the CBS studios. However, he was not live on camera. We just heard his voice.

The reason? In those days it took 20 minutes for TV cameras to warm up. From then on there was always a camera in most studios, ready warmed up. The shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald was the first murder ever carried live on TV.

Although I was there, just a few paces behind Oswald, I thought the pop-pop of Jack Ruby’s gun was flashbulbs going off. That is, until they carried Oswald past me. I had to go back to my hotel room and watch reruns on TV before I really saw what happened just a few feet in front of me. Most other journalists who were there that Sunday morning in Dallas now believe, like I do, that it could not happen in today’s TV-dominated age. There would be so many TV cameras and their crews, Ruby would never manage to get within shooting distance of Oswald!

It was not altruism, but the wife of Larry Flynt who has persuaded the porn publisher not to run nude pictures of Iraq war heroine Jessica Lynch in Hustler. Flynt paid more than $100,000 (£60,000) for the rights to a series of photos of her cavorting topless with two fellow soldiers who served with her at Fort Bliss, Texas. He had every intention of running them until, Flynt admits, his wife warned him: “America is going to hate you if you do this.” Flynt claimed he was forfeiting millions by not running the pictures. Then, in an attempt at philosophy, he added: “Sometimes there are things more important than money.” Like upsetting your wife.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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