No typing, all casting


The Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair fabrication scandals may have damaged journalism, but those only really affected the small portion of news consumers who read. For us picture-looking news consumers, what I’ve discovered may be far more disappointing. After a series of phone calls to secret sources, I found out that most of the celeb-mag “editors” who appear on TV don’t actually edit, write or in any way help produce the magazine. Instead, Star, US, Life & Style, In Touch, InStyle and People find attractive people and pay them to go on TV and talk about articles as an “editor at large” or “national correspondent” or “television editor.” At other magazines, those first two titles refer to an editor or writer who works from home, and the last means an editor who works on the section of the magazine about television. Editors who spend all day talking to TV producers are properly called Graydon Carter.

I called Star magazine editor-at-large Julia Allison to confront her about this scandal, and she told me to calm down, especially because she was shopping: “The people who do corporate strategy are understanding the power of three or four minutes on a cable network or a morning show. It’s the best publicity you can get. Oh, that is the cutest dress I’ve ever seen. Oh my! Oh my God! I can’t handle it. Anyway, with the advent of 24-hour news networks, you have an incredible amount of air time to fill.”

Allison argued that there are too many TV news outlets -- CNN, Fox, MSNBC, the “Today” show, “Good Morning America,” “Access Hollywood,” “Entertainment Tonight,” E!, VH1, the TV Guide Channel -- to fill with segments from real magazine reporters, who are busy at their important job of standing all day outside Britney Spears’ house. Plus, being on TV requires skills most print reporters don’t have time to develop. Skills such as knowing where to get super-cute dresses.


So instead of doing the normal Star magazine work of walking up to maitre d’s and claiming to be looking for a famous friend, Allison calls up TV producers to suggest segments on stories she didn’t write or edit. She functions as Star’s one-person publicity department. She’s also making connections in hopes of landing an on-air job at one of the channels. Her predecessor at Star, Jill Dobson, scored a gig as a Fox News Channel entertainment reporter. It is now possible to succeed at journalism without bothering with any journalisting.

Allison got her magazine job not by submitting a resume and writing samples to the editor but by having her William Morris agent call. As strange as her job is, though, it does make sense. She’s great on camera and prepares by reading all the relevant articles on the topic she’s covering, and she regularly debriefs the reporters, writers and editors at Star. “I do my due diligence,” she said. “What do writers do? They gather facts from a variety of sources. So what’s the difference? Do I have more knowledge than any given writer or editor? Probably. Because they’re just focusing on their one story.”

No, she doesn’t have firsthand information, and sure, it’s deceitful for Star to call her “editor at large” instead of “spokesperson” or “publicist” or “person who looks better on TV than any of us.” But in this vast world of wonkery, very few of the experts on TV are talking about articles they personally reported. They’re no closer to the news than anyone who just read the magazine, like Allison. I appeared on VH1’s “I Love The 70s” episode about 1970 even though I wasn’t born yet, as well as 1971, even though all I remember about that year is blurry shapes and a vague feeling that I was the only thing keeping these two blurry shapes together.

Allison, in fact, is a genius -- the only person to find an easier way to make money in journalism than I had. I’m the idiot going on TV and giving my title away for free. I’m like a sports stadium still named after the team.

To remedy that, I decided to offer my editor-at-large services to a publication that needs some publicity. One that is underrepresented among the talking heads on VH1’s “100 Hottest Hotties.” The Harvard Law Review.

Harvard Law Review President Bob Allen thoughtfully considered my pitch, during which I explained how I could help it compete at the supermarket checkout, where it is getting trounced. “Although we could surely use your help,” Allen said, “I’m not sure we’d ever be able to adequately compensate you for your services.”


I should have let my agent make that call.