Celebrity Mags: Media’s Hot New Star

As non-traditional media cause a decline in the circulation of most newspapers and magazines, an old formula has risen as the new star of print media: celebrity gossip.

Print Media’s Hot New Star: Celebrity Mags (WaPo, D1)

The latest angle in the movie-star love triangle of Jolie, Pitt and Pitt’s not-yet-ex-wife, Jennifer Aniston, qualified as a major event in celebrity journalism, a type of news once relegated to cheap tabloids but now reshaping the media industry. Over the past year, Us Weekly and its competitors have soared in popularity even as the circulations of newspapers, business weeklies and practically every other print publication have been falling.

In the first half of this year, the total circulation of Wenner Media LLC’s Us Weekly rose nearly 24 percent, to 1.67 million. Competitors Bauer Publishing USA’s In Touch and American Media Inc.’s Star also enjoyed spectacular circulation gains. Time Inc.’s People, widely considered to be America’s most profitable magazine, posted a modest increase, to 3.8 million. The September cover of Conde Nast Publications Inc.’s Vanity Fair, featuring an exclusive interview with a tearful Aniston, was its highest selling issue ever.

With Americans confronting grim news every day about war and natural disasters, “celebrities have become a sort of national distraction,” Min said. “They are hired entertainers,” she added, and the public demands to be entertained almost constantly.

At the same time, there has been a growing backlash against the tactics some celebrity news organizations use to gather information on stars. The Los Angeles County district attorney has launched an investigation into whether aggressive paparazzi are purposely creating confrontations to get more interesting photos.


[Us Weekly] Executive Editor Michael Steele said the magazine holds to traditional journalistic standards: It does not pay for information and it does not dig through people’s trash. You will not find stories about alien abductions and allegations of botched plastic surgery. If the magazine gets things wrong — like the mistaken report that Pitt joined Jolie in adopting a boy from Africa when it was really only Jolie on the adoption papers for a girl — it corrects them. When Us Weekly is scooped, it credits its competitor. “We want to be the paper of record when it comes to celebrity news,” Steele said.

The journalismization of entertainment media at the same time that we’re seeing the tabloidization of traditional news is fascinating to watch.

It’s certainly no surprise to me that celebrity mags are popular. I’ve seen it at OTB: posts on items in the popular culture (e.g., the Renee Zellweger-Kenny Chesney annulment or the death of Freda Wright-Sorce) tend to generate far more traffic than serious analysis of current events.

This is hardly a print-only phenomenon. Indeed, according to the BlogAds order page, which tracks the traffic of member blogs, several sites dealing with celebrity gossip–sometimes in a sexually explicit way, sometimes not–are among the very most popular, even though they are totally off the radar screen within the Blogosphere itself as measured by the TTLB linkage rankings. Indeed, something called “The Superficial” gets more traffic than any blog but DailyKos (which is really a collection of blogs rather than one site)–far surpassing such stalwarts as InstaPundit.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steve Verdon says:

    The Superficial is a hoot. My wife reads and occassionally I’ll find she has left a window open with that site, and some of its items are pretty funny.

  2. Scott in CA says:

    I would pay real money for a news channel than never, ever, ever, had any coverage of any celebrity anywhere at any time. And nothing about missing white women. And no Amber Alerts. Please. We’re talking real money here.