Celebrity Media Spinning Out of Control?

The break-up of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston was announced in a statement issued on the evening of Friday, Jan. 7.

"We would like to announce that after seven years together we have decided to formally separate," it read, adding that "our separation is not the result of any of the speculation reported by the tabloid media."

But celebrity media were part of the story. To begin with, the so-called press release was given exclusively to People magazine. And beyond the personal tragedy of one couple's struggles lies an industry poised to reap hundreds of millions of dollars from misfortunes such as theirs.

"It's just huge news, and that translates into huge newsstand sales and I'm sure huge ratings for the celebrity entertainment shows," says Bonnie Fuller, the editorial director of American Media Inc., which publishes The Star magazine.

Kent Brownridge -- the general manager for Wenner Media, which publishes US Weekly -- told the New York Post that "for a celebrity weekly, this is our tsunami."

On Sunday, when the Academy Awards are held at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, the stars will bask in the kind of worshipful coverage they seek and have always sought. But as the world of celebrity media has exploded in recent years, they now also have to contend with coverage not of their beauty but their blemishes, not their achievements but their flaws.

So what historically has been a cozy and symbiotic relationship is now in many cases turning sour, and celebrities are seething. In the new issue of Details magazine, pop star Britney Spears refers to the publisher of Us Weekly, Jann Wenner, as a "big old fat man." Last November, actress Cameron Diaz and boyfriend Justin Timberlake got into a scuffle with some paparazzi that has resulted in legal action. Tensions are running high.

'Was There Any Jennifer Aniston?'

On a recent Thursday morning editorial board meeting at The Star magazine, staffers sat around and dished about celebrities like high school students in a cafeteria.

"Any good pictures this morning?" asked Fuller. "Justin and Cameron?"

"Jessica Simpson?" asked editor-in-chief Joe Dolce. "Was there any Jennifer Aniston?"

"What about Britney and Kevin?" asked Fuller.

Last year, American Media Inc. hired Fuller away from Us Weekly to turn The Star -- formerly a supermarket tabloid printed on paper -- into a glossy, photograph-driven cash cow. In 2002, Fuller had refashioned Us Weekly into a highly profitable celebrity glossy and AMI wanted the same, offering Fuller a lucrative contract worth at least $1.5 million a year.

People magazine launched in 1974, but glossy weeklies devoted entirely to celebrities burst onto the newsstand in just the last few years. The Star was re-launched last year; Us Weekly, re-packaged in 2002; In Touch Weekly, launched in 2002; Life & Style magazine, launched in November. While overall magazine circulation is down, for celebrity glossies it's up. Publishing insiders estimate newsstand sales alone on these magazines add up to $25 million a week, or more than $1.3 billion a year.

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