American Pie 28.06.01


The web can be a boon – or a danger – to journalists. A new US survey indicates that more than 98 per cent log on to the internet at least once a day, compared with 73 per cent a year ago. Back in 1994 the figure was only 17 per cent. Today, journalists use it to research stories, find story ideas or catch up on news releases, and spend, on average, 15 hours a week reading and sending e-mail. However, one website, designed to help journalists find sources (and charging $100, about £70, a year) has revealed journalists’ names and interests to virtually anyone who logged on. The information runs, it is said, to thousands of names, phone numbers and details of the stories being worked on – something most reporters prefer to keep confidential. The site claims it was inadvertent and says it is taking steps to prevent any future leaks.


The US’s most famous prison journalist, Wilbert Rideau, who for almost 40 years while in Louisiana’s State Penitentiary in Angola has edited the award-winning prison magazine The Angolite (and also directed an Oscar-nominated prison documentary, The Farm) is to get a new trial, which could mean he might soon go free. Rideau, when he was 19, robbed a bank, took three hostages and shot them. One died. His original death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Now, because repeated requests for clemency have been turned down, he has served longer than any other inmate – even those convicted of murder. A new trial means a jury would have the option of convicting him for manslaughter instead of murder, so he could be released on the basis of time already served.


It’s not the loss of the big display ads causing all the problems for US newspapers. It’s the drop-off in classified ads, particularly ‘help wanted’ ads, because of the declining economy. Some papers report the ads are down 20 to 30 per cent. And there are no signs of a turnaround. As a result, papers are getting thinner, sales are down and staff are being laid off. The second-largest chain in the country, Knight Ridder, which owns the Miami Herald and the Philadelphia Inquirer, is laying off 1,700 employees. Even The New York Times is cutting staff. It is planning to lay off 1,200 employees, about 9 per cent of its payroll. In the magazine world the picture is much the same – especially at those aimed at a high-tech audience. For such glossies, once the size of phone books, the decline has been dizzy. Some have lost 65 per cent of their ad income. Publishers of most magazines are glum about the prospects, says Nina Link of the Magazine Publishers’ Association. "A month ago people were cautiously optimistic about the second half of this year. But I am not hearing that now," she says.


The cue-cat – an electronic device that was supposed to link advertisements effortlessly to a computer – has lost one of its nine lives. The Texas company which launched it is laying off staff and is now, according to a spokesman, in "maintenance mode". The cue-cat bar codes have virtually disappeared from magazines here.


It’s a little late to be of any help to ousted editor Bonnie Fuller – but the most recent sales figures for Glamour show this year’s June issue was up on last year. One supposed reason for Fuller’s dismissal was a decline in news-stand sales. This year’s June issue, with Catherine Zeta-Jones on the cover, sold 1,066,000 copies – just over 9,000 more than last year’s. May’s issue featuring Britney Spears sold 20,000 more than a year earlier.


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