In our post-truth, post-social media, post-Metamorphosis-of-everything century, celebrity gossip had a bad time last year, posting disappointing annual averages. (Nevermind that a major hurricane knocked out power and flooded beaches, neither one has much relevance to 2018’s HOTTEST celebrity gossip.)
As the head of a perpetually in-the-news celeb news website, I feel a bit conflicted about how our business made this quarter-century decline happen. A slice of the blame lies at our doorstep: The New Yorker’s January 4 cover story on Donald Trump’s presidency unmasks as one of the latest and most cogent works in recent press history. Every news outlet in America — and over the last century the world — has been filled with Trump coverage in one form or another, and it will always be there.
The rest of the blame, and thankfully most of it, lies at the feet of the 24-hour news cycle. MTV started the trend in 1991 with its seminal real-time news program TRL, which then carried over to other cable TV news outlets. The genre always got a publicity boost from big breaking news, like an Air America commercial the year after Ted Kennedy’s assassination or Nicole Kidman’s pregnancy in 2006. The name of MTV’s The Osbournes on their 2004 premiere is the obvious evolution of these hard-to-tame ceremonies. In 2011, Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio was named, as Teen Vogue describes, “the new hottest teen idol,” and it was the end of the gossip weekly as we know it. (Cue George Takei a few years later.) When you’re a website like mine that strives to cover celebrity news day-to-day, the gossip angle loses a big audience every day.
Some of the most popular gossip stories in years past were gutsy but nonetheless obvious: The vicious Kate Gosselin 2010 divorce trial. The most recent child star swept away by a drunken driver, Hilary Duff, in 2014. This means, as both headline writers and website editors would almost assuredly agree, we are way better off if the real stories are getting national attention first. They make for better stories, with less hype and more accuracy.
This is a healthy development. And maybe we’re coming to terms with what this means for us as businesspeople who like buzz, and the post-2000s celebrity glamour we went so long lacking. In the above example, the tabloid screaming headline might as well be: “Hilary Duff Is The New Ariana Grande.” It’s the “after the first 100 deaths of Snow White to the death of Andy Kaufman” of celebrity gossip. If a star dies (and my brother Mark S. opens with the death of Whitney Houston on his website in 2008), you’ll often find how and why it happened written in parenthetical stories off to the side.
The internet also killed the celebrity profile. Overnight, as well as the daily column that would churn them out on occasion, the celebrity “journos” with the hatted sources all went, including John Aravosis (who also looks at the Trump cover story), Howard Kurtz, and even the Washington Post’s great D.C. reporter, Richard Cohen. A few of those voices still exist, but I say: Thanks, internet!