Two big celebrity scandals in one week can sometimes be too much – even for People, America’s leading celebrity and gossip magazine.
The first scandal was, of course, the story of the lovesick American woman astronaut who was arrested for allegedly trying to kidnap and maybe even murder her rival for the affections of a fellow astronaut. People ran the story of the Astronaut Love Triangle on its cover, with lots of pictures and interviews.
But on Thursday, just after People had gone to press, the second big story broke – the death of sexy buxom bombshell Anna Nicole-Smith in her hotel suite in Florida. Too late for People to replate.
It was an example of how celebrity weeklies, in this fast-moving age of websites and almost round-the- clock celebrity coverage on television, can be outpaced.
Admitted People’s managing editor Larry Hackett: “These things can’t be timed” . To which Janice Min, editor in chief of rival Us magazine, added: “It definitely puts a weekly magazine in a difficult place to break news.”
Adding to the problem is the cutbacks in staff at some of the weeklies, mostly for economy, which has resulted in less reporters and writers being available to cover a newly-breaking story.
Even television shows devoted to celebrity news are faced with logistical and budgetary problems these days.
Not that it prevented one programme Access Hollywood assigning ten reporters – and a number of stringers – to the Anna Nicole Smith story. Altogether the programme had between 50 and 70 people on the story.
In fact the flurry and excitement over the unexpected death – which has still not been explained – spread even into the mainstream American press. Thousands of inches were devoted to the story – even in papers that normally would leave such stories to the tabloids.
These days even papers like the Washington Post and the New York Times are under increasing pressure from 24 hour cable news and websites. Today they are unapologetic about the time and resources they devote to such stories.
One professor of journalism, Robert Lichter, of George Mason University, had his own theory however about the appeal of the Anna Nicole Smith story: “The media can’t resist when something serious happens to someone frivolous. She had everything the media looks for: money, sex and dieting. Her death is so irresistible because it lets people mourne and gloat at the same time.”