Photos are a major feature of celebrity magazines, online or off. They’re worth paying for. They’re worth arranging at great cost. They’re worth concessions and compromises. They’re it, for a certain kind of publication. But the sudden glut of Instagram photos of celebrities and by celebrities, often with newsworthy text attached, destroys a set of common arrangements. Let’s say a celebrity couple is having a child (congratulations). A few years ago, they might have given this news to the tabloid willing to pay top dollar, or to the only celeb magazine that had refused to print a previous divorce rumor. The celebrity had power, but the magazine did as well. Aside from cash, they offered access to a large and distinct audience. Publication in one magazine might result in coverage on TV, in interview requests, etc. It would result, less visibly, in people thinking and talking about Celeb Couple. This was, in the abstract, powerful parties trading power and making money.
With Instagram, the power shifts dramatically.
Jay Rosen recommended this article two years ago, and it’s just as solid today as it was then. It’s definitely got some intriguing thoughts about the state of journalism.
Contained in every worried story about a celebrity publication losing access to celebrities, or a sports channel losing access to athletes, or a political press losing access to candidates, is the insinuation that something is lost; likewise, these stories tend to lack any information about what happens now. This is not a coincidence! The sports magazine losing an exclusive career announcement may signal the end of that particular kind of media object, which will be replaced with an Instagram post and a Facebook update. The competitor taking this away doesn’t look anything like the publication it’s replacing; it doesn’t think of itself as a publication at all.
The opposite of this seems to be cable news that will take a miniscule event and attempt to inject a dramatic story upon it until something else actually happens.
Most stories are very simple things, like the celebrity having a baby. Most of the coverage around it is just adding some additional context. This is fine for things that aren’t very complicated like celebrity gossip, games, and sporting events that don’t matter too much. However on more complex things like government and international relations or perhaps even ramifications of business moves, they can be far more complicated and require more thought and analysis than the casual observer of a singly released raw fact would require. For example, in the case of Trump, his tweets may provide one narrative to those blindly following him, but in aggregate, particularly when most of them are not true or highly biased, what story do they embody? Which direction is he really going in and what are those long term consequences that the casual observer of his tweets is not going to spend the time thinking about?
You don’t need access to celebrate things, or to join and amplify fandoms. You don’t need to interview a famous person to say how great they are. You don’t need to talk to a politician to celebrate something they’ve done. You also don’t need access to reflexively declare, “that’s garbage.” In a feed, where every story is shared in the context of the poster’s performed identity, stories that simply articulate support or disdain go far.
The superfans and the haters gradually crowd toward some sort of middle, bumping up against the subjects that have colonized it: corporations, brands, leagues, celebrities, politicians, movements, causes, and endless forms of entertainment with their attendant publicity machines (if this seems like a weird or disparate set of things to compare, they kind of are: but such is the unifying effect of a platform).
aka regression toward the mean…