The fall and fall of celebrity journalism

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

few years.

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?

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