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So What Do You Do, James Heidenry, Editor-in-Chief of Star?
"We try to balance the right thing with doing our jobs"- April 17, 2013
One way to judge a gossip magazine is to take a look at how many scoops it gets. On that count, Star appears to be doing pretty well these days. According to newly installed editor-in-chief James Heidenry, the publication was the first to identify Tiger Woods's new girlfriend as Lindsey Vonn, first to report that Ryan Seacrest's relationship with Julianne Hough might be on the rocks and first to relay whispers of Liam Hemsworth cheating on Miley Cyrus.
As he approaches his first anniversary with the publication on May 1, which is also the launch date for the new Starmagazine.com, the EIC spoke with us about how his bicoastal staff's "good, old-fashioned reporting" will topple the Big 3 of celebrity news.
Name: James Heidenry
Position: Editor-in-chief, Star magazine
Resume: Before joining the gossip ranks, spent four years with Modern Luxury's Manhattan magazine, which he helped launch. Was also part of the launch team for Maxim, has worked as a project manager at Time Inc. Content Solutions and consulted for The Knot and In Style specials.
Birthdate: March 21, 1968
Education: Fordham University
Marital status: Married with children
Media idol: "My father; Ted Turner a distant second"
Favorite TV shows: Fox Soccer Roundup, Family Guy, PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer
Guilty pleasure: Lobster tail from Rocco's and Dlisted.com
Last book read: Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner
Twitter handle: None
For those who only occasionally glance at Star at the supermarket counter, how would you describe the brand?
Star magazine's reputation, I think, is that it's a little more gritty than the rest [of the celebrity weeklies]. We don't have the marketing department trying to position us any differently than what we are. We trade in gossip; we pay sources; we pay them a lot of money. We have great reporters in L.A., in New York, and we don't do anything that Us Weekly doesn't do, certainly anything In Touch doesn't do, and from time to time People doesn't do.
One of Us Weekly's best-selling issues in 2012 was Jessica Simpson at home with baby. Of course, they weren't home with her. They didn't even speak with her. And they do those stories every six weeks where they say, you know, "Kelly Clarkson, how have you lost 22 pounds?" They didn't speak to Clarkson; they just got a photo of her. Those kinds of stories are really bait and switches.
We have a lot of sources. They range from people who work in the homes of celebrities to bartenders to former publicists. When a source tells us something, we sometimes think there's not too much to it and we move on. But then we'll get a second tip. For example -- I won't name who it was -- we got a tip on this husband who was going to a hotel. We decided not to waste our time on that, since it could be anything. Then three weeks later, this guy is back in his hotel and he has a lot of luggage. So we'll send a reporter there, and sometimes we'll send the reporter back again a second time, because the status of things on, say, a Wednesday is different than on a Saturday. And on that Wednesday, we'll start to try and contact other sources we know who have relationships with the couple. So, we build the story that way.
|"Us Weekly and People are, in my mind, the mouthpiece of celebrity publicists."|
And the result, you'll see that some of the stories we've broken come out two to three weeks before Us Weekly and People and the Internet, like Chris Brown and Rihanna getting back together. We routinely get the news from sources that is accurate; maybe we'll have a little something wrong, but the main details are accurate. Us Weekly and People are, in my mind, the mouthpiece of celebrity publicists. And the editors at those two magazines, who take themselves super seriously, have a high opinion of their magazines -- People, rightfully so, of course.
They covet these relationships with the publicists, and as a result they don't say negative things about the celebrities, something like a famous person getting caught cheating, whereas we don't have any such relationships. We still talk to them all the time; sometimes they call us to ask why we ran something and try to correct it. So, we have relationships but we don't covet them.
We did reports on Kris Kardashian and Bruce Jenner for three weeks in a row. Finally, Us Weekly went to Kris and said, 'We'll tell your side of the story. Whether or not they paid her for that, I don't know, but they routinely pay the Kardashians a lot of money for access. We don't pay celebrities for access. We report on them through other sources. We pay for sources, but that's besides the point. That's just part of the industry we work in.
Do any of the other magazines, like People, ever credit Star either online or in print for breaking something first?
No, but what's really funny is even Bonnie Fuller who used to run Star magazine doesn't give us credit at HollywoodlLife.com. But Us Weekly, I think, is the biggest culprit of hypocrisy. Star magazine, three weeks ago, put Kim Kardashian on the cover with something like a 65-pound weight gain, sold really well. And, of course, we knew that our competitors were going to copy us. Two weeks later, Us Weekly and In Touch both ran "Kim Kardashian heavy" covers. In Touch, at least, were honest about it and said, "Kim Kardashian is gaining weight; she can't stop eating." Us Weekly has Kim on the cover saying "Don't Call Me Fat," and when you open up the issue, it points out our cover and says, "Look how these tabloids are making fun of her" when they are doing it on the cover themselves -- not making fun of her, but using Kim's pregnancy to sell magazines and trying to take a holier-than-thou attitude. To me, it was just a lack of respect for their readers.
|NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Jane Pratt, Editor-in-Chief of xojane.com?|
Taking L.A. as an example, what is roughly the size of your reporting staff and what do you look for in terms of people you think might be good for the beat?
We currently have seven reporters in Los Angeles and, quite honestly, it's tough to find good ones. They start out at a certain age in the office doing a lot of legwork on the phone, and they also go out at night to all the events and parties to establish contacts. It's a 12-hour, 14-hour job, especially in the beginning. Reporters have to love celebrity news, they need a high energy level and they have to be intelligent. You can go down a million different rat holes and find nothing. You also have to be able to put two and two and seven together really quickly to figure out stories and whether it's going to be worth our time and sources. We always try to be respectful.
When Tom Cruise was reunited with Suri, the very day of his divorce in New York, we were the only magazine that had someone inside the hotel that was surrounded by paparazzi. It was 95 degrees, and I told the female reporter to just hang out by the pool. And I told her, "When he comes there by the pool, ask him if he wants privacy and, if he says yes, immediately leave. And if not, wait at the pool and read and observe." And she did. She didn't identify herself as a Star reporter, but she offered him that choice, and we meant it, because this was his daughter on the first day of his divorce. A lot of us have kids. So... it's a tough business. You need to have a strong stomach, and we try to balance the right thing with doing our jobs.
Can you tell me a bit more about how Star deals with publicists?
It's a give-and-take-relationship. Sometimes we have a story that's very explosive. We kind of call them and ask "Do you want to comment?", and very often they'll say "no comment," or "that's not true" as we decide what we're going to do with that information. And sometimes, a publicist will ask, "Why did you run that story?!" And we tell them, "Read our magazine; that's what we're about." If a publicist wants to serve their clients, they should have a good relationship with us, because, frankly, we do have stories on certain people that we hold, because we like the relationship with the publicist and we've done Q&A with the celebrity in the past or photo shoots with them.
|"We pay for sources, but that's besides the point. That's just part of the industry we work in."|
Almost always, publicists aren't aware we even have the stuff. We'll do, let's say, an at-home photo shoot with a Real Housewife, and they're nice to us... We like doing cooperative stuff with celebrities sometimes; it's a nice break from the hard news we do. And then something will come up; we'll get a tip [of] "Oh, this woman used to do soft-core porn," and we'll decide "Let's not do that" as part of our nice relationship with them. So some stuff, we just hold close to the vest and there's really no need to publicize it.
How much attention will you pay to what TMZ does once you launch Starmagazine.com?
You can't ignore them; they're a 500-pound gorilla. TMZ has to monetize itself [on the Web] in order to employ; we don't. We don't have to have a revenue stream come in from the new website; we get to relate and serve the readers. It's not really to bring in more money so, to me, TMZ and StarMagazine.com are unrelated.
Are there any topics Star will not cover?
No, we don't really have bullet points of what we don't cover, but we don't typically out people, for example. There are several male celebrities who we have evidence of them being gay, but we choose not to do that; it's just not our thing. And sometimes we get news about athletes doing drugs, and we generally won't do those, because it will affect that person's ability to earn a living wage and make a livelihood, just things like that. But, for the most part, what you see in Star magazine is what you're going to get week to week.
Richard Horgan is co-editor of FishbowlLA.
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.
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