Amazon.come-on

Amazon.come-on

Amazon.come-on

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 8 1999 7:39 AM

Amazon.come-on

The death of King Hussein leads at all the majors save the New York Times, which top-fronts the story but leads instead with a story about state spending on welfare. A Health and Human Services survey shows, says the paper, that state officials have, despite winning the right under welfare reform to control a sizeable portion of federal welfare funding, left unspent $3 billion of the $12 billion available to them in a recent nine month period. The paper attributes this to the steep decline in the number of people on welfare, the states' slowness to develop new welfare programs, and their desire to save money for the next recession.

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Hussein died in Jordan, as was his wish, after being returned unconscious from unsuccessful cancer treatments in the U.S. His passing was announced to the country by his oldest son, who hours later was sworn in as king. The coverage emphasizes Hussein's connections to the many different players in Middle East politics. The Los Angeles Times calls him a "unique peacemaker." USA Today has President Clinton's assessment: "When peace finally comes to the Middle East, his name will be inscribed upon it." The Washington Post and LAT report that President Clinton departed for Jordan for funeral ceremonies accompanied by George Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. The papers note that also in attendance will be the leaders or representatives of Israel, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. It may just be a case of de mortuis nihil nisi bonum, but only the NYT lead notes (albeit rather low in the story) that King Hussein sided with Saddam Hussein regarding the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

USAT kicks off a series on worldwide asbestos, stunning with the news that an epidemic of asbestos-related diseases emerging in the poorer nations of the world will in the next 30 years kill at least one million workers involved in mining and manufacturing the stuff. Those who will die, says the paper, include Chinese prisoners, Australian aborigines, immigrant laborers in the Middle East, Eastern European peasants, and South Korean sweatshop workers.

The WP off-lead takes note of what it calls a significant nationwide pattern of jury nullification. The most concrete sign of the trend, the paper says, is the sharp increase in hung juries. For years, the norm was considered 5 percent, but recently that rate has doubled and tripled in many locales. Federal criminal cases in Washington, D.C. average 15 percent and some California courts now report rates of 20 percent. The Post runs a supporting story inside about a woman advocate of jury nullification on a hung Colorado drug case jury who was later convicted of failing to disclose her own drug conviction during jury selection.

The NYT runs a home run business story on its bottom front, detailing a quiet change in the way Amazon.com handles the book recommendations and reviews it runs on its site and emails to customers--it now charges publishers for many of these reviews. The paper says $10,000 is now the price tag for a premium package for a newly released computer book, which includes the top slot on the site's home page, an author profile or interview, and "complete Amazon.com editorial review treatment." The Times calls this "a rather delicate move for Amazon, which has distinguished itself with its thoughtful editorial voice." (Disclosure: Today's Papers was once--it likes to think--one of those thoughtful voices.) Amazon officials tell the paper that their site space is not for sale, and that most of the books featured do not bring a fee, but several publishers tell the NYT that books they back with ad dollars are rarely rejected. The piece notes two big problems with Amazon's advertorial effort: 1) It makes readers wonder if the raved book is really good or just paid for; 2) It puts books published by the generally more penurious independent houses at a competitive disadvantage, regardless of content. The piece also says that Amazon's biggest competitor, Barnesandnoble.com, is preparing to launch a similar advertorial program later this year.

The Wall Street Journal's "The Outlook" documents the country's extraordinary residential real estate boom. Compared to 1997, sales of existing homes were up 14 percent in 1998. The numbers are so good that future results may trail last year's for the next decade. The story notes that housing purchases are a function of household formations, which are a function of demographics, which augur a bit of retrenchment. After all, baby boomers, who are responsible for much of the growth, have probably peaked in household formation. And the country is getting older, and old people move less.

Sunday's NYT "Week in Review" went "beyond Monica" to survey the workplace experiences of some other recent interns. Give the paper credit for noting one job where the problem was hardly an intern's getting too much attention. The intern's account reads in part: "I have just completed my first week of work at The New York Times....I enter in the mornings without anyone saying hello and exit in the evenings without anyone waving goodbye...."