Wednesday, May 23, 2007

BoSacks Speaks Out: Shred Of Dignity

BoSacks Speaks Out: Isn't life strange? Just when I think I have it all figured out, which is on most days, something happens to let me know that I have a lot more to learn. In this case it is the reactions of some of my readers to comments made in the press by Samir Husni. I have received many letters, some in support and most in an opposite camp, but all reacting the story about US magazine outing falsification in celebrity journalism.

I thought it was an interesting set of journalistic circumstances, and surely worth reporting on, which I did. But I really didn't expect the negative reactions to Samir's comments. Here is another take on the ongoing dialog. I will reprint some of the letters in the next few days. I would be very curious as to your reaction. Here is a link to the original story Tab Wars: Breaking News or Faking News? What do you think?

"Heav'n has no rage, like love to hatred turn'd, Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn'd"
William Congreve

Shred Of Dignity
Posted by Matthew Rettenmund
Us Weekly has launched a new feature called "Faux Biz," exposing patently untrue (but commercially compelling) stories in tabloids like Life & Style, In Touch, Star and OK! I love it. It's like when I was a kid and first became aware of commercials for Coke that slagged off Pepsi, and as a publishing professional, I feel like a hetero hubby witnessing a catfight. Me-OW.

Aside from the thrill of bloodsport, Us editrix Janice Min's position is that the feature is being done to underscore Us's journalistic integrity. But Us seems to be calling bullshit on all of its celebrity-magazine competitors...could "Faux Biz" not be construed simple competition-bashing?

In this article, Min's position is crystal-clear: "When the business of reporting on celebrities is attached to these copycat publications that fabricate stories, yes, it was a conscious decision to clarify Us's position." She goes on to make a distinction between making and faking news while acknowledging that she isn't exactly working for The New York Times. "Us Weekly is fun, it's addictive, it's light, but it's definitely a news magazine, and it absolutely covers the celebrity industry."

I think she has a valid point. Hard-news sources tend to disdain popular culture and the cult of celebrity to the extent that basic journalistic standards are cast aside. How many times have I read legit reviews or summaries of the ups and downs of the famous that are riddled with glaring factual errors? All Min is saying is that Us's subject matter might be fluffy, but there is no reason its contents should not be truthful. Gossip is not a lie; I define it not by the correctness of its facts but by its focus on other people's business.

Original Min

I was shocked to read (in the same article) "Mr. Magazine" Samir Husni's take on "Faux Biz," on celebrity magazines and on magazines in general. I lost a lot of respect for his opinion-and that's saying a lot considering he's quoted in almost every article about magazine publishing.

First, he claims that "Faux Biz" is bad for magazine publishing because it's about warring publishers and not the reader. I don't completely agree, but it's not hard to imagine readers becoming disenchanted. For one thing, I'm sure even a lot of adult readers don't quite understand the rivalry between similar titles.

But if Min might be taking her magazine more seriously than anyone else does (as it should be), Husni has no respect for it at all. "[P]eople are not picking up those magazines looking for the need to know the truth. Magazines are more like Prozac for the readers, these are disposable items."

He is basically saying Us Weekly is no better than Weekly World News, a faux-biz tabloid that has argued in court that nobody is expected to believe its contents.

Yes, but did Britney find it?

I find this shocking. For every interesting point Min brings up (she thinks celebrity journalism is to women what sports journalism is to men), Husni comes back with a complete disregard for the industry he studies. Calling tabloids like Us soap operas in print, he says, "The whole thing is like a movie, it's Hollywood in print, and do you believe every movie you go to watch?"

This is an ignorant point of view. First, no, I don't think people read Us Weekly to get hard news, and yes, Us itself gets things wrong. But I definitely think that people reading Us have an expectation that while not all of the claims made by the celebrities inside may be true, the editors of the magazine are not willfully making things up or printing completely unsourced statements. The worst part of what he is suggesting-that there is no room nor is there a need for truth in celebrity magazines-is that even though the people in Us and In Touch and the others are real human beings, he feels it's perfectly okay to make up stories about them for the entertainment of the masses. It's all "fun," in his opinion.

This contempt for celebrity (and celebrities) is at the heart of why serious news organizations are always getting it wrong in regard to those kinds of stories. Is it really such a bad thing that the editor of the #1 celebrity magazine is embracing the truth along with humor and gossip?

Husni's comments are only valid from a strictly business point of view. If the human factor and if the ethical factor are removed, what he says might be true-that Us calling out its rivals might just make its own readers curious to give them a try, that warring magazines might turn off consumers, that readers at once crave and look down on the media. But it's irresponsible and the height of cynicism to make every decision based on what the market wants. Without a modicum of decency and civility and humanity, magazines will serve no other purpose than to shred our idols, pulping our collective dignity.

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