Media: US Weekly opens arms to publicists for star access - In pursuit of big-name exclusives, the relaunched US Weekly is adopting a cooperative stance toward publicists in order to put stars on its cover

In mid-March, the legendary Rolling Stone publisher, Jann Wenner, stumped up dollars 50 million to relaunch the monthly US magazine into a crowded field of pop culture titles. Although it competes with Time Inc heavyweights, People and Entertain-ment Weekly, the renamed US Weekly has been carving out a reputation with a series of eye-catching covers.

In mid-March, the legendary Rolling Stone publisher, Jann Wenner, stumped up dollars 50 million to relaunch the monthly US magazine into a crowded field of pop culture titles. Although it competes with Time Inc heavyweights, People and Entertain-ment Weekly, the renamed US Weekly has been carving out a reputation with a series of eye-catching covers.

In mid-March, the legendary Rolling Stone publisher, Jann Wenner, stumped up dollars 50 million to relaunch the monthly US magazine into a crowded field of pop culture titles. Although it competes with Time Inc heavyweights, People and Entertain-ment Weekly, the renamed US Weekly has been carving out a reputation with a series of eye-catching covers.

Recent celebrity coverage has included pictures of Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and their new baby; a Richard Gere cover story on his life as a father; and a candid Madonna interview about marriage. US Weekly reveals the entertainment industry in soft focus and its approach has helped it gain a reputation as a friend of PR firms.

To get this kind of high-level access, US Weekly is prepared to give considerable ground to those controlling Hollywood's A-list. 'We are not opposed to working with publicists,' says editor Charles Leerhsen. He adds that demands for certain subjects to be off-limits are respected, unless there is an overriding reason why the issue should be discussed. 'We are not going to be mean or overly aggressive. It will be a good experience working with our journalists, there won't be any tricks.'

US Weekly focuses on the human interest and personal stories, but not all celebrities are comfortable with that. Comedienne Tracey Ullman walked away from an interview because she did not want to discuss her private life. Leerhsen says others have walked out of interviews mid-way through.

'People like to read about stars, but not because they worship them.

They want to see how they are dealing with the everyday things, the heartbreak, children, marriages, new boyfriends, all the milestones in life,' says Leerhsen. He adds that celebrities are such a big sell for magazines because they are often ahead of certain trends, and gain access to new products before the general public.

The editor, who was an entertainment writer on Newsweek, before moving to People, draws out the distinctions between US Weekly and the competition.

He points out that stories have a warmer tone than the wry Entertainment Weekly. In addition, he says, People demands that stars are photographed in their homes, while US Weekly does not.

US Weekly's celebrity-friendly approach has nevertheless been criticized.

It came under fire last month from former US Weekly rock critic Karen Schoemer, who claims her review of Paul Simon song 'You're the One,' was killed and replaced by a more favorable one. Quoted in the New York Post, Schoemer, said: 'I felt like I wasn't free to say what I thought. I'm not a publicist and I'm not paid to promote records.'

Leerhsen says Barbara Walters is the magazine's model for interviews.

Walters famously tackles the tough questions, but does not push hard if her subjects get prickly. He continues: 'You've got to stop fighting it, you have to live in the real world. Publicists have their clients' interests and we don't try and fight that. We love A-list celebrities talking on their own terms.'

Leehrsen gives one example of a less than positive celebrity story the magazine ran on singer Whitney Houston's breakdown. 'We were first to break the fact that Whitney's family had done an intervention on her.'

But although the title is keen to work constructively with celebrities and their publicists, it will not, according to Leehrsen, do 'cheesy write-arounds.' By this he means the title won't run other people's stories, unless reporters can gain comment or access to the celebrity themselves.

When the title relaunched in March, Wenner brought in two hot-shot gossip columnists from the New York Daily News: Marcus Baram and Marc Malkin, who write 'Hot Stuff' at the front of the book.

Malkin says publicists should remember that the title is a national magazine and that people who are well known only in New York or Los Angeles may not be suitable. 'We need household names.' He does not demand that every event must have happened in the past seven days, but he adds: 'It helps.' The title closes on Mondays, with features closing on Fridays.

The section includes celebrity sightings and comments on publicity giveaways.

The review section covers subjects such as movies, TV, music, books and the Internet. There has also been a fair amount of coverage of the presidential race and, surprisingly, foreign politics have even made an entrance with a back-page photo of the Yugoslavian election celebrations in a recent issue.

Since the majority of readers are women, the magazine has upped its fashion content, under the direction of Susan Kaufman. An October feature focused on Hollywood's love affair with designer Giorgio Armani. The year's bestseller was the September 4 style special, which contained a list of the 100 best-dressed stars.

But despite the relaunch, circulation has not lived up to Wenner's initial expectations. Wenner had expected the weekly version to attract a circulation of one million, on par with the monthly rate base. That figure was reduced to 800,000 in July, but this week rose to 850,000.

In common with many celebrity magazines, US Weekly does guarantee selected publicists cover stories. But it won't be pinned down to specific dates for those covers to run.

While it's fine for celebrity agencies such as PMK to play hardball with the press, how do less well-known artists ensure they get play? Leerhsen says US Weekly often features new talent, such as his own actress daughter Erica Leehrsen, who is starring in Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.

Leerhsen gives this advice to publicists: 'Study the magazine. We are a hungry market and we like to hear from established newcomers, with the more cooperation the better.'

He does not underplay the significance of having a good working relationship with the PR community: 'Working with publicists will be the key to our success. We want to be the place to go with the story if you're in love or having a baby.'



CONTACT LIST

US WEEKLY

1290 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10104-0298

Tel: (212) 484 1616

Fax: (212) 767 8204

Email: firstname.lastname@usmagazine.com (some variations)

Web: www.usmagazine.com

Editor-in-chief: Terry McDonell

Editor: Charles Leerhsen

Managing editor: Maura Fritz

Executive editor: Megan Liberman (front section)

Senior editors: Tom Conroy (Television); Alanna Fincke (Features); Ron Givens; Tish Hamilton; Erik Jackson; Lynne Palazzi

Senior writers: Marcus Baram; JD Heyman; Phoebe Hoban; Marc Malkin; Sarah Saffian

Associate editors: Chad Anderson; Carmela Ciuraru (books); Liza Ghorbani (music); Catherine Gundersen; Andrew Johnston (movies); Tom Samiljan (internet); Nicole Vecchiarelli

Creative director, (fashion and beauty): Susan Kaufman

West Coast bureau: Todd Gold.



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