Media Brand

The problem with curbing celebrity tabloid reporting is, it sells

By Stephen Lepitak | -

February 16, 2020 | 5 min read

It’s been a weekend of huge outcries in the UK. The incredibly sad news of a celebrity death has the nation baying for the blood of the tabloids that hounded and condemned her, which possibly contributed to her taking her life. My focal point here is not on that individual story - as gut wrenchingly sad as it was - it’s the response that the general public has had - and always has - in looking for who to blame.

There are many guilty parties here - the tabloid newspapers included. They would, and have, claimed in the past that the celebrities they picture and write about court their attention - I’ve heard it directly said to me from the publishers of the Mail Online. ‘We get phone calls tipping us off when they plan to go to the beach in their swimsuits.’ So why shouldn’t they report it when they don’t want coverage? It’s been the same argument aimed at the Royal family, not least Harry and Meghan, and that has followed them to Canada it seems not too.

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The problem with curbing celebrity tabloid reporting is, it sells

It’s a sad reality that these publications are businesses fulfilling the supply of a demand for information on the rich and famous - and the public is complicit in that as they are (in large numbers) those creating the demand.

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And where do advertisers fit in here? Well it’s obvious; without advertising, these media brands can't cover their costs. Every penny counts. The low hanging fruit of celebrity is their lifeblood.

So a public outcry on social media (another less than holy place when it comes to discussing mental health and a hunger for celebrity) is hardly going to make a difference. The calls for media titles to stop their unrelenting obsession with building up and then knocking down the great and the good will continue on, unless...

As we heard in recent years during the ongoing brand safety reports into issues facing advertisers when it came to where their brand would be positioned online - much of it against content they would rather not be associated with - it would be down to the brands and their media agencies to make a stand. Hurt them in the wallet in order to make a change.

And It has happened, to an extent. And after all of the issues the likes of News UK and Reach faced around the phone hacking scandal - if they hold a dedicated audience, then they will continue to attract advertisers.

Unless there is a line drawn in the sand when it comes to where to spend their ad dollars then the status quo will remain. They are battling the tech giants for that money and engagement and for their very existence - so unless the public unites against them, don’t expect any change or moral progression.

The Guardian’s stance against the fossil fuel companies and banning their advertising was a rare moment that was - rightly - lauded as a media brand recognising what its readership wants.

Ultimately though, don’t expect any of their tabloid cousins to find their moral conscience anytime soon. Celebrities will be seen as fair game while readers obsess over their lifestyles and there is money to be made there. If it's the case, and it does seem to be, that these titles have been removing content to avoid the criticism they currently face, then I would ask them why they aren't asking tough questions of their own reporting right now.

There are sad truths following a very sad weekend.

Stephen Lepitak is the editor of The Drum

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