Tuesday, March 29, 2005

NYT: National Enquirer by way of Fleet Street


Enquirer's British Invasion
New York Times
By DAVID CARR Published: March 29, 2005

Spirits were high in the offices of The National Enquirer in Manhattan last week. A gaggle of British interlopers had taken custody of the tabloid, a SWAT team of Fleet Street meat-eaters brought in to revive the storied but now flagging checkout magazine. Not only was The Enquirer moving its main offices and production facilities to Manhattan from Florida - effectively taking the gossip magazine uptown and mainstream - but even more deliciously the paper also had a cover article suggesting that a Hollywood actor's Super Bowl celebration was a bit more super than most.

Paul Field, the Enquirer's editor and a former associate editor of The Sun, a popular British tabloid, was in particularly fine fettle, even though he was fighting a cold. A stripper and prostitute had told The Enquirer that she spent Super Bowl Sunday last month in the company of the star of a popular television show. The actor, through a representative, has denied the allegations. The Enquirer saved the naughtiest bit from the stripper's account - allegations of drug use - for the issue coming out today, the last one produced in Boca Raton, Fla.
In holding off, the editors took a tactical risk that they would not be scooped. "No, I'm not concerned," Mr. Field said, sitting at a table in his office. "No other publication would touch that story," he said, unlike in Britain, where "there would be other papers all over it."
In order to ensure a steady inventory of articles like the super Super Bowl one that will compel checkout readers to actually buy the paper, Mr. Field hired a slew of British tabloid veterans, including Paul Henderson, the former Mail on Sunday investigations editor, and Steve Dennis, the ex-Daily Mirror reporter who broke the stories about Paul Burrell, former butler to Diana, Princess of Wales.

Mr. Field, 33, will also oversee the expansion of the weekly tabloid to 72 pages from 60 pages with the April 18 issue (on sale April 7), along with the addition of Anna Nicole Smith as a columnist, not to mention the retention of Debbie Frank, who once served as Princess Diana's seer, as the staff astrologist. A section for women called "Q" that will provide how-to tips and uplifting stories about regular people will also debut.
The moves are meant to pull The Enquirer out of its circulation doldrums and help it compete with Us Weekly, Star and In Touch along with low-price service magazines like Woman's World.

"The paper has been losing a lot of circulation, and I think the company decided that I could do something about that," said Mr. Field, who took over from David Perel, an American, and is expected to deploy British-style tactics - like brandishing cash to land the big stories. It will be a long, tough slog to the glory days in the mid-70's, when The Enquirer sold four million copies a week. Gossip has been legitimized and has metastasized, spreading to every corner of the culture, and cable and network television is full of breathless updates on the tiniest doings of B-list celebrities. Readers cannot open a magazine or newspaper, including this one, without being offered tasty morsels from someone else's life. And that ubiquity has imperiled The Enquirer, one of the publications that started the modern era of gossip journalism when, in its current incarnation, it was founded in 1952.

As recently as 1997, The Enquirer had more than 2.5 million readers. But the success of Us Weekly and In Touch magazines, along with the television programs "Entertainment Tonight" and "Access Hollywood," ate into the franchise. At the end of last year, The Enquirer had a circulation of under 1.5 million, with its newsstand sales, where most of the profits lie, threatening to drop below a million.

That trend deeply disappointed its parent company, American Media, which also publishes Men's Fitness and Star magazine, among other titles. The drop was precipitous enough that the company brought in consultants from McKinsey to find out how to build a ledge. In a way, American Media has gone back to the future in search of a solution. It was a British group who three decades ago came over and brought tabloids like The Enquirer to prominence with a variety of stunts, the most memorable being the publication of a photograph of Elvis Presley in his coffin.But staffs gradually Americanized, as did their approach to doing business.

No comments: