Print Media's Hot New Star: Celebrity Mags

Us Weekly editors Michael Steele and Janice Min go over celebrity photos. The magazine reviews more than 50,000 photos every week.
Us Weekly editors Michael Steele and Janice Min go over celebrity photos. The magazine reviews more than 50,000 photos every week. (By Ariana Eunjung Cha -- The Washington Post)
By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 23, 2005

NEW YORK -- It was 10 minutes past 5 p.m. on Monday and everyone agreed it had been a slow news day. No nannies or strippers alleging affairs with married movie stars. No sightings of celebrity cat fights. No wardrobe malfunctions.

The editors were just about to close the upcoming issue of Us Weekly when Peter Grossman, the magazine's liaison to the paparazzi, raced in.

He was excitedly waving a printout of an image that had been snapped just minutes earlier. It had been taken from the back and at a weird angle -- but the subject was unmistakable.

It was Brad Pitt. And he was carrying Angelina Jolie's adopted Ethiopian daughter, Zahara, who was sporting a pink knit cap, and holding hands with her adopted Cambodian son, Maddox, who was in camouflage. A baby bottle was tucked into Pitt's back jeans pocket.

"Oh!" said Janice Min, 36, the magazine's editor in chief, mobilizing her staff. "Get it, get it!"

The latest angle in the movie-star love triangle of Jolie, Pitt and Pitt's not-yet-ex-wife, Jennifer Aniston, qualified as a major event in celebrity journalism, a type of news once relegated to cheap tabloids but now reshaping the media industry. Over the past year, Us Weekly and its competitors have soared in popularity even as the circulations of newspapers, business weeklies and practically every other print publication have been falling.

In the first half of this year, the total circulation of Wenner Media LLC's Us Weekly rose nearly 24 percent, to 1.67 million. Competitors Bauer Publishing USA's In Touch and American Media Inc.'s Star also enjoyed spectacular circulation gains. Time Inc.'s People, widely considered to be America's most profitable magazine, posted a modest increase, to 3.8 million.

The September cover of Conde Nast Publications Inc.'s Vanity Fair, featuring an exclusive interview with a tearful Aniston, was its highest selling issue ever.

With Americans confronting grim news every day about war and natural disasters, "celebrities have become a sort of national distraction," Min said. "They are hired entertainers," she added, and the public demands to be entertained almost constantly.

At the same time, there has been a growing backlash against the tactics some celebrity news organizations use to gather information on stars. The Los Angeles County district attorney has launched an investigation into whether aggressive paparazzi are purposely creating confrontations to get more interesting photos.

The outcry from Hollywood has increased in recent months after a photographer was accused of hitting Lindsay Lohan's car as he was trying to get her picture and when Scarlett Johansson said part of the cause of an accident she got into in the Disneyland parking lot was her effort to duck photographers chasing her.

Like other glossies about celebrities, Us Weekly fills the bulk of its pages with photos. Each week it reviews more than 50,000 submitted by photo agencies and freelancers and narrows them down to a couple of hundred to publish.

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