Be worried about the decline of magazine journalism in this country.
Talk might not have achieved a cohesive identity, but at least it
did run some well-written pieces. To see what Tina Brown was reacting
against, I suggest you pick up the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. It’s
published by Hearst, just like Talk was, although it has a much larger
circulation (2.6 million, compared to somewhere under 700,000). If
this is what Hearst is happiest with, it’s easy to see why they were
never really comfortable with Talk.
On the cover, we have Britney Spears. I think she’s always on the
cover of any magazine she appears in: it’s an integral part of the
celebrity-wrangling process. But Cosmo had to give her more than just
the cover: they had to make her the magazine’s "Fun Fearless
Female of the Year".
Turn to the cover story, and it begins with this sentence:
If you don’t know who Britney Spears is, the only
explanation is that you’ve been living on another planet for the past
And it doesn’t get any better, believe me. It’s hard to convey the
sheer awfulness of this piece without quoting it in full, but suffice
to say that the mind-numbing torrent of superlatives, the stream of
dubious assertions ("as if straying from her past proven formula
wasn’t ballsy enough, she’s about to venture into the world of acting")
and dreadful prose ("the star, who was voted by Forbes magazine
in its 2001 100 Top Celebrities list as the fourth-most-powerful star,
is now using her might to give back") combine to create an article
only a publicist could love.
Britney’s People certainly had copy approval, of course, and the
piece carries the byline of a very senior editor at the magazine,
who presumably could have done better if it hadn’t been dictated to
her by a talentless flack. But this is the sort of stuff which
really makes the public suspicious of journalists’ ethics, not inside-baseball
snits about Paul Krugman. Say what you like about the horrible cover
stories in Talk or Vanity Fair, at least they are readable,
and at least there was always much better stuff elsewhere in the magazine.
Neither is true of Cosmopolitan.
One question I do have, though: is it – could it be – that
we can see Britney’s right nipple through the gauze of her
frock in the Patrick Demarchelier photograph on page 142? Retouchers,
retouchers, where were you?