Why Hollywood and the rest of the world are scared of British showbiz hacks
Leading PR Alan Edwards argues that the no-holds barred approach is transforming journalism
Monday 07 February 2005
I well remember some high-minded American music journalists (or should we call them "critics") being in shock at the behaviour of British members of their profession on a trip to Miami to see the Spice Girls. There was a World Cup game on television at 7am, so curry and lager had been ordered for early-morning delivery. The sight of beery British journalists eating vindaloo off the carpet of a five-star hotel for breakfast truly shocked the US media. The scene was made all the more surreal because everyone was wearing a Sun England World Cup hat.
Scandinavian journalists, with their liberal attitudes, also have a style of their own. I once attended a press conference in Copenhagen where "cigarettes" were being passed around during an interview with the latest British rockers. One of the group's managers decided to join the wacky-baccy scribes in a show of solidarity. Unfortunately, this normally serious businessman fell off his chair and had to be helped from the conference room. The event was later cited in a legal action by the group alleging less than professional behaviour on the part of their management company.
French and Italian reporters are a different tribe entirely. The press in these countries is generally less entertainment-led, and papers such as la Repubblica and Liberation focus more on politics than on showbiz gossip. Music is viewed as art, which is wonderful for the more serious artists such as David Bowie, but not so good for the Atomic Kittens of this world.
Explaining the nuances of the UK media to visiting stars who are over- worried, overprotected and over here can be tricky. In Britain there are some of the most exciting, talented, scary and unpredictable writers around. They are rooted in a long and illustrious journalistic tradition stretching back centuries, a fact that is lost on many.
The irreverence of English tabloids strikes fear in the hearts of plenty of visiting American clients and their nervous PR people. After all, in some cases, Hollywood publicists expect journalists to audition for them. They view the British newspaper landscape as something akin to the Wild West - without George W to act as the sheriff. Bear in mind that the "Wacko Jacko" sobriquet by which Michael Jackson is now known worldwide emanated from Fleet Street.
Think what they may, the Americans, French and Italians have to admit that the British press corps has an incredible influence on world media. The Sun is one of the biggest-selling newspapers in the world, selling 3.2 million a day, while The New York Times sells closer to one million. Two recent Sun editors have gone on to be knighted. Tabloid editors are at the heart of the British establishment. Entertainment writers in particular have risen through the ranks to rule the roost in the UK media. The lively and controversial Piers Morgan, Andy Coulson, the editor of the News of the World, and broadcaster Nick Ferrari are just a few of the many who started out as pop columnists.
Most of the major American and international papers have large London bureaux and are strongly influenced by what is in the UK papers on a day-to-day basis. We are the shop window for celebrity news. Without doubt, the British tabloid culture is spreading its tentacles overseas. The top New York PR Rob Shuter, of Dan Klores Associates, says: "The impact that UK tabloid journalists has had in America cannot be underestimated. The five-hour time difference has resulted in the UK press setting the tone of many stories that break in the US. Additionally, the import of British journalists such as Martin Dunn (the former editor of Today, now an executive on the New York Daily News) have had a huge impact on the American media market."
Until recently, Richard Wallace, now the editor of the Daily Mirror, was based in the US, and the flow of British talent Stateside is constant. Nic McCarthy, the former editor of OK!, one of Richard Desmond's publications, has also now crossed the Pond to work for Us Weekly magazine.
The British media sells a Hollywood-style dream better than anyone. And has those suntanned Hollywood agents quaking in their rhinestone boots.
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