Editor of US Weekly's of Celebrity Coverage Stepping Down
Thursday, July 23, 2009
NEW YORK -- In six years as editor in chief of Us Weekly, Janice Min often found herself zealously watching young women in airport lounges. She wanted to be sure they were reading her magazine cover to cover.
"I was amazed at how often they were reading every last word," Min says with a satisfied smile. The celebrity editor, who announced this week she was stepping down to pursue other, unspecified opportunities, presided over a two-thirds increase in circulation during her tenure, in part by recognizing that young, affluent women like herself wanted to read edgier, newsier celebrity journalism -- lots of it.
For that, Min was handsomely rewarded -- close to $2 million, according to some accounts (she won't comment). But this is a tough time for print media, and though Us Weekly is doing well, there have been reports that Min decided to leave partly because her boss, Jann Wenner, was unwilling to keep paying her at the same level.
True or not, Min is probably one of the last magazine editors to be paid so well, says industry analyst Samir Husni.
"Those bloated days are gone in our business," says Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi. "We were riding such a wave of success that we blinded ourselves somewhat." Yet he credits Min and her predecessor, Bonnie Fuller, for putting celebrity journalism on the map. "Now it's a genre, part of the journalism landscape."
Min, 39, insists she simply needed a career change. "I just want to do something new," she said this week in her modest midtown Manhattan office, dressed down in long white shorts. "I feel strongly that there were skills I applied to Us Weekly that would be applicable to other media." She said she had no job in hand and no plans -- other than vacation.
Wenner, whose Wenner Media also publishes Rolling Stone, denies reports that money had anything to do with the departure. Rather, he says, "there's a right time for everything, and Janice was smart, and I was smart."
A graduate of Columbia University's graduate school of journalism, Min took over the magazine at merely 33, having served for just over a year under Fuller, who left for American Media and its Star magazine. Though Fuller is credited by many, including Husni, with the changes that led to Us Weekly's success, there are differences, Wenner says.
"Bonnie was pretty negative about celebrities," the publisher says. "Janice isn't. You'd be hard-pressed to find a mean picture in our magazine. Pictures of celebrities carrying shopping bags aren't mean."
Still, Us Weekly thrives on features like "Most Embarrassing Wardrobe Malfunctions Ever," a photo gallery now on its Web site that includes such moments as young "Harry Potter" star Emma Watson with her dress falling open up to the waist. (Also on the site: footage the magazine acquired of Michael Jackson's harrowing 1984 Pepsi commercial in which his hair caught fire. The magazine says it's gotten more than 10 million hits.)
A focus on such things is a marked change from the celebrity journalism of past decades, Min notes.
"There was a very remote relationship then between the public and celebrities," she says. "They were meant to be up on a pedestal. They were primarily movie stars, and their publicists totally controlled the news about them."