Are the days of the celebrity editor over? There is a suggestion here that they are heading for extinction. Lately, a lot of editors have gone from the A-list to unemployment – and virtual anonymity. The biggest name, of course, has been Howell Raines, the top editor at The New York Times, who resigned in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal. Several editors of fashion magazines have also disappeared virtually without trace. Then there is Rosie O’Donnell, the television comedienne whose venture into the magazine business proved a disaster. “There was a theory that if you had a big enough name on the masthead you’d be able to sell ads. But I don’t think it has ever really worked,” says Kent Brownridge, general manager of Wenner Media, which publishes Rolling Stone and Us magazine.
“An automobile company doesn’t care who the editor is,” he adds. He does believe the only person who these days could make ad pages go up on the basis of her name alone is Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue. Norman Pearlstine, editor-in-chief at Time Inc, however, believes celebrity editors have their ups and downs. And will continue to do so. “At one publication, somebody who gets a fair amount of attention gets replaced by someone who gets less,” he says. Or vice versa. As Pearlstine added: “Who was the editor of The Star before Bonnie Fuller?”
One ex-celebrity editor who continues to keep her name in the news here is Tina Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and the defunct Talk magazine.
Her first column for The Washington Post (it was about the ban on “screeners” for Academy Award voters) was greeted – according to the Washingtonian Magazine- with “uniform ridicule” in the newsroom at the Post. One of the newspaper’s staff – whose job is to officially respond to criticism of the Post – wrote in his column: “About the worst and most irrelevant thing I’ve read in my three years on the job.”
Unfazed, Brown went on the Post’s website to talk about her new column – and to plug her cable-television interview programme. In fact, the television show, which had middling reviews when it was launched and was not expected to last, is now making a big jump from quarterly to weekly. “Next year,” she told a New York Post reporter, “is going to be a very busy year.” She has no plan, she insisted, to return to the magazine business – at least for now anyway.
Is Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post losing as much as $40m (£23.6m) a year as claimed by its rival, the Daily News? Murdoch’s son, Lachlan, who is in charge at the Post, admits the paper does continue to lose money – but not as much as the News claims. Also, he responds, the Post is in the middle of a new three-year plan, which involves many changes (including, of course, the arrival of editorial chief Martin Dunn). He predicts the paper may soon be breaking even. In response, the Daily News claims that Lachlan himself made the admission about the possible size of the newspaper’s losses in an interview with New Yorker media writer Ken Auletta, who has a book coming out soon about the economics of the news business. And the interview, the News claims, is on tape.
There is still life in Life. At Time Inc there is talk once again of reviving what was once America’s most famous picture magazine.
It has had several reincarnations over the years. This time, the idea is to relaunch it as a weekend supplement to be included in a number of US Sunday newspapers.
By Jeffrey Blyth