NEW YORK — When People magazine is embedding journalists, it’s clear the war is affecting everyone.
Since fighting broke out in Iraq, the weekly glossies that cover showbiz — Us, Entertainment Weekly, People, etc. — are working to find the right balance of coverage between Saddam’s Republican Guard and Hollywood’s red carpet.
Most aggressive is Time Inc.’s People, which has virtually transformed into a daily newsroom. When Army POW Jessica Lynch was rescued April 1, the mag rejiggered its layout just before going to press and closed a piece about the plucky PFC at 2 a.m.
People managing editor Martha Nelson maintains that war coverage fits naturally into the mag’s mix of “real-life” stories and that the folio’s mission has always included deep reportage.
“We are a newsmagazine and are going after stories about the war in the same way we would any other big event,” Nelson says.
The mag recently beefed up its journos overseas to five, including an L.A. correspondent and a staffer who covered Vietnam for Time.
Even Teen People is putting on the camouflage, with reports on what teenagers think about the conflict and war-related Web polls that are getting twice the amount of hits the site normally receives.
In Iraq, Teen People is relying on a stringer with a background in youth culture reportage. But managing editor Barbara O’Dair says depending on how the war evolves, she may send over more support.
While it’s too early to assess how the war is affecting newsstand sales, advertising for the glossies hasn’t taken a dive, as some had feared. For the week of April 4, ad pages were actually up at People (4%), Entertainment Weekly (6%) and Us (23%) compared to 2002.
“Entertainment magazines are usually not as affected as newsweeklies, because advertisers don’t want to have ads that are nice and cheery next to war images,” says Steve Cohn, editor of the Media Industry Newsletter. “Plus, there’s such a demand for entertainment. It’s a bit of a release.”
Interestingly, celeb mags took a hit in advertising after the Sept. 11 attacks, but Cohn says the situation in Iraq is not as dire. “9/11 was really a blow that nobody could take. (But) people have been predicting the war (in Iraq) for six months. There’s no shock to the psyche of the economy.”
Apart from People, other glossies are struggling to navigate a position that doesn’t veer quite so close to the frontlines as to redefine their editorial identity but doesn’t ignore those lines, either.
Exec editor Janice Minn says Us Weekly is not attempting to compete with hard-news publications, but is “presenting the war through our celebrity filter.”
Madonna‘s unreleased video (see story, page 19) made the editorial cut, as did accounts by Andy Garcia and Arnold Schwarzenegger of entertaining troops abroad.
Of course, there are limits. “Us is not a magazine that will ever have anyone embedded,” Minn says.
Time Inc.’s Entertainment Weekly is employing a similar strategy, says Rick Tetzeli, EW’s managing editor.
Its journos are writing Stateside, focusing on things like the war debate among celebs and the peculiar juxtaposition of reality TV and plain old reality, which was the subject of a recent essay.
“The fact that you can just click channels from ‘American Idol’ to the war in Nasiriya is very strange,” Tetzeli says.
EW, he says, is banking on the traditional need for escape in times of crisis. “I think people look for that right now, and that’s what we’ll always have to offer.”