MEDIA: SHOWBIZ COLUMNS - No end to showbiz feeding frenzy. Readers have a voracious appetite for showbiz stories and the tabloid press, in particular, is placing greater importance on them than ever before

The current reshuffle in the showbiz editorial departments of the tabloid press only serves to underline the importance of the sections to their editors.

The current reshuffle in the showbiz editorial departments of the

tabloid press only serves to underline the importance of the sections to

their editors.



The Mirror’s Matthew Wright is leaving showbiz at 35 to be replaced by a

team partly drawn from rivals, and there is the promotion at the Daily

Star of Gareth Morgan from showbiz editor to assistant editor, to be

replaced by his deputy Ben Todd. The moves come two weeks after the

promotion at the Sun of Dominic Mohan to be assistant editor (showbiz),

while his deputy Rav Singh is to edit the News of the World’s showbiz

column.



Increasingly in recent times editorship of a tabloid showbiz column has

been a stepping stone to greater things, reflecting the importance of

the sector to the tabloid press. Mirror editor Piers Morgan was the

first editor of Bizarre and his successor Andy Coulson is now deputy

editor at the NoW.



But it is no longer just the tabloids. When Posh Spice appeared on a

catwalk earlier this year, only the Guardian and the FT resisted the

temptation to put her on the cover. The broadsheets might dress

celebrity items up as stories about social phenomenon but the coverage

is still there.



The cult of the celebrity, also reflected in the continuing success of

OK and Hello!, can be viewed as proof-positive of the importance of

PR.



Despite protestations, showbiz editors have a much closer relationship

with PR people than other specialist hacks.



And the showbiz editors themselves have become subjects for their own

pages in a ’friend to the stars’ fashion. They know the value of the

resultant profile in the annual payrise negotiations.



The rise in the importance of showbiz hacks and their fare can be seen

as another example of the UK following trends in the US where stars have

long been treated as royalty. But is there more to it?



’Maybe it is because we have so much to worry about these days, we need

some kind of distraction to try to forget about it,’ says Anita

Strymowicz, head of press at Soho PR.



And evidence suggests that readers have a high level of savvy about the

whole game.



’What is interesting is that people are more aware than you think,’ says

Mohan of the Sun. ’When I broke the story that Chris Evans and Geri

Halliwell were going out I remember hearing a couple of workmen in the

street talking about it. One said to the other: ’well, they have both

got the same PR man, innit?’ Ten years ago they would not have known

what a PR man was.’



So they might not believe it, but they still buy and read it.





THE SUN - Dominic Mohan



ABC: 3,543,836 (July - Dec 1999)



Frequency: Daily



Position: Assistant editor (showbiz)





’Showbiz has always had a big part in the Sun, the Bizarre column

started in 1982 - that is when it exploded at the time of the new

romantic pop movement with Duran Duran etc. It was the first showbiz

column and the Mirror has been trying to ape it ever since.



’We are number one. We are not shy about making a showbiz story the

splash, for example. We have four on the team here and a TV department

as well.



’It reflects the importance of showbiz that two weeks ago I was made an

assistant editor of the paper and there are now assistants for news,

features, sport and showbiz. The point is that Posh and Becks sell

newspapers.



’A lot of Bizarre readers are very young - it brings a lot of sons and

daughters into the paper, we get letters from eight year olds.



’Football is fast becoming the new showbiz. A lot of footballers are

starting to work it out as well now and are taking on publicists like

baseball stars do in the US.



’The same is happening with club DJs too. Some of them are being paid as

much as footballers. A few years ago you would have been told that they

did not speak to the press.’





DAILY STAR - Ben Todd



kiABC: 511,304 (July -Dec 1999)



Frequency: Daily



Position: Showbiz editor and editor of Access All Areas





’The trend is for showbiz stuff to be increasingly important.



Even the broadsheets are putting more in.



’The readers for Access All Areas are generally ten to 30 years old.

People get a great read - it only works if you have good stories. We do

tend to do more stories about pop stars than the other papers, but it is

not just about teen bands, there are so many people now who cross over

the boundaries and appeal to everyone - like Ali G, for example.



’Showbiz has become so important to national papers. Newspapers used to

tell you serious stuff about how the war was going or whatever, now the

TV does that and the papers have to either take these stories on or give

people something different.



’We are looking for different things. For example with a set piece event

like the BAFTAs, those covering the event for television want to know

who won and what they said in their acceptance speech - we want to know

who had a row or a snog. I think the set piece events have become so

PR-controlled that this is the more interesting stuff. How we work with

PR people is different in every case. There is a PR involvement in less

than half the stuff we do.’





THE SUNDAY PEOPLE - Sean O’Brien



ABC: 1,546,306 (July - Dec 1999)



Frequency: Weekly



Position: Showbiz columnist





’You can call it the dumb-down society if you like, but people are more

interested in what is going on with the stars these days and showbiz

news has become very important to newspapers.



’A showbiz specialisation is a tough one, it’s such a cutthroat part of

papers and it is difficult to build up contacts. It is all about

contacts and being at the right parties. You often have to stay late at

five parties a week. You have to get out there and meet people and

generally there is a positive spin to what you do.



’Sometimes we work hand in glove with PR people. The column is supposed

to be more PR-friendly than the showbiz stories in the main section of

the paper, but the amount of stuff I would get through PR is pretty low

- 20 per cent maybe.



’I would be happy to get more PR stories in, but a lot of PR people tend

to be good at fire-fighting and not so good at giving us positive leads

and stories.



’The page is usually across on a Friday but it can change quite a lot on

Saturday. You need to come in with a good load of stuff on Tuesday so

Monday is often spent phoning contacts and PR people. Tuesday is lunch

with a contact and then it is heads down for the rest of the week.’



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