RealDiana, FauxJournalism

Today's guest post is by Courtney Chauvin Ellul, Director, Peppercom Europe

The hotly debated July 4 Newsweek feature, “Diana at 50: If She Were Here Now,” written by the always controversial Tina Brown, sounds more like an episode of Coronation Street, than the cover story of a major news magazine. Adding insult to injury is that photo – the super-freaky, Zombie-like, Photoshopped image of the Princess walking with daughter-in-law Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. It’s a new low for today’s media, especially for an outlet that has the word ‘News’ in its title.
Not surprising, the British are none too happy about this. 

The media here, not unlike many U.S. outlets, are tearing the story to shreds. According to The Telegraph, “The ghoulish cover exudes bad taste: using Diana’s image is one thing – the late princess still sells papers in America as elsewhere. But presenting her, artificially aged, in a hat and frock next to the young Duchess, similarly attired, is beyond the pale.” The Guardian calls the story “ill-judged’” and “a rather flaky imagining of what the dead princess would be doing now.” The issue underperformed with advertisers as well, selling 13.8 ad pages, which is considered low for a ‘special double issue’ (hardly special and, wafer thin, hardly double).

Britons are also peeved by the U.S. publication’s creepy depiction of the late princess and exploitative grab for sales (imagine, for just one moment, how you would feel if that was your digitally altered dead mom on the cover of a ‘reputable’ magazine?). According to an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll, more than a third of Britons think the cover is offensive, and three-in-ten brand it as useless. More than half of respondents are not interested at all in reading the story. A reader posted a comment on the Newsweek site on Tuesday morning, asking: “When will the new title be official: Fictionweek?” It would take more than a tea-filled afternoon to read through the hundreds of other scathing comments.

Peppercom Europe managing director Jacki Vause agrees that the piece is tasteless; the sort of editorial you would expect to see in a down market woman’s magazine (“People has better standards of content!”) – not Newsweek. She said:

The speculation on Diana’s life as it would have been was written like some kind of bad rom-com movie script outline – with her slick ‘hedge-fund’ guy and her secret trysts when she became bored. I am not sure what the purpose of editorials like this are.

Does it serve any information need? No, it’s just a titillating byline from Tina Brown who is obviously just keen to keep her profile up. And for Newsweek, a sad way of dragging out the Royal Wedding story so that it can boost its sales/profile. I think it backfired on both. Tina Brown appears frivolous and without substance (she could speculate on a lot more important and relevant matters) and Newsweek has dumbed itself down. The fact is, it’s boring. Diana is dead – move on!

British native and Peppercom director Carl Foster offers his two pence – in the form of three thoughts:

First thought: That’s not the greatest Photoshop job when we’re talking about the cover of Newsweek.

Second thought: What a cheap and opportunistic way to piggyback on the recent popularity of the royals while at the same time highlighting your own social connections while at the same time generating web traffic for your publication and selling more copies at the newsstand (it must be the time of year when these pubs get ABCed).

Third thought: Who is that bloke in the background?

I’m a fake Brit – living in London now but from Canadian/American descent – but I share in the outrage here and am bitterly disappointed with Newsweek. It’s a fluff piece – a real yawner – that lacks editorial integrity and shows a blatant disregard for the late Princess’s accomplishments and legacy – not to mention her family and devoted fans who hold on to the person she was, not the person she’s imagined to have become.  What can we expect next from the magazine? Pippa at 28? Sarah Palin in another pair of gym shorts? 

When Tina Brown took over Newsweek in 2010, she said her vision for the magazine would be "about filling the gaps left when a story has seemingly passed."

To me, and to many of my fellow Brits, this is not a gap. It’s a Royal gaffe.

7 thoughts on “RealDiana, FauxJournalism

  1. Using a computer program (and Carl is right – a poorly done Photoshop job) to age the late Diana and place her in a fictional setting to wonder “what if” is simply disgusting and distasteful. The publication is called “Newsweek.” Fictional “what ifs” are not news. They’re fiction. It was a nothing but a cheap shot at selling magazines for shock value.

  2. Thanks Ken. And, thanks again, Courtney, for a great post. Clearly, the word ‘sleaze’ is now the most appropriate word to describe what was once called respectable journalism. Like most everything else in our society, the quality of journalism has markedly declined. Sadly, the only check or balance on such salacious garbage is doing exactly what you suggest: not buying these rags.

  3. Thanks for the comment on the post(which ironically ran,as you say,when the NOTW closure was announced).Here’s hoping the end of the ‘World’ marks the beginning of a new era.

  4. Great post, which perfectly captures all that’s wrong with that cover. Many of us thought Ms. Brown might bring Newsweek to new lows, but she has exceeded all expectations with this one. The bad news is that this has generated so much coverage via social media–and now I’ve contributed to that. The good news, I hope, is that newshounds of good taste and with any modicum of decency have now decided never to try the new “News”week.

  5. Ironic, Courtney, that your guest post on this subject appears on the very day the ‘World’ is shut down for gross errors in editorial judgment. Editors must feel such intense pressure for sales — and to satiate a nearly insatiable public curiosity on the private lives of others — to resort to such strange and destructive behavior. My grandfather was editor of a respected Midwestern newspaper. I don’t suppose he’d recognize his chosen field these days.