On the Media: Celebrity dominance of mass media isn’t going anywhere
If you’re jaded by the vast number of column inches and broadcast airtime given over to the lives of the rich and famous, you may just have to live with it.
The verdict of a panel of celebrity experts at the Frontline Club on Thursday – speaking at an On The Media panel debate in partnership with the BBC College of Journalism – was that, if anything, the dominance of "slebs" on public discourse and news media will only increase in the age of online social networking.
If you couldn’t make the event in person, here’s a video of the whole thing and our roundup is below…
Jane Bussmann, a showbiz writer turned comedy writer and stand-up comic, admits her job as an LA-based journalists was to make boring famous people sound attractive, suave and star-like. She admits hers pieces gave a "sanitised version of celeb life in Hollywood."
In a frank admission that would shock most (but not all) journalists, Bussmann recalled interviewing a star from the TV drama Desperate Housewives, only to lose her tape recorder straight afterwards. Despite having not really listened during the interview, she then "made the whole thing up":
I write about his dreams hopes, aspirations… And did anyone notice? No, they didn’t. People said it was the most accurate thing ever written about him.
Bussmann also expressed misgivings about describing unhealthly thin stars as being in great shape: "I’d write ‘Nicole Ritchie looks amazing’ when she looked like she was made of dessicated coconut."
The debate centred to the question of access to celebrities, who employ legions of PR managers to filter news about them and offer increased access to friendly and uncritical media. Heat magazine editor Sam Delaney argued that his title does better commercially when there is no access at all.
Heat depends on celebrities but not on access. In our case an endorsed story is far less commercially succesfful… (Glossy celebrity mag) OK! is the antitthesis of what we do. It’s better to have a pap(arazzi) shot on the cover because people feel they’re getting something real – not something sanitised
But one area where stars do have the upper hand is in the realm of media law – case after case in the High Court has curbed the right of the media to report embarassing allegations, on grounds of libel and privacy.
Camilla Wright, founder of gossip site Popbitch – no stranger to an occasional writ – said: "The Max Mosley case said that we’ve no right to know anything that they don’t want to tell us. The John Terry case brought it back a little bit, as the judge agreed that he’s selling his life (through the media)."
But is all this coming to an end? Is the very word "celebrity" rendered meaningless by its extreme over-use? No chance, says Wright:
"What we have now are celebs who are happy just to be famous.. it’s still growing because people who grow up now are living their lives much more externally through social networking.
Delaney added that his young readers "want to be like (singer) Beyonce" and that for the current young generation, it isn’t impossible that they could one become a star. "When I was at school if I said I wanted to be famous for a living, I might as well have said ‘I’ll probably travel through time’… but now it’s a real possbility."
Jane Bussmann is appearing again at the club in a special comedy night on Friday April 30. Tickets are on sale now.