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from Jack Shafer:

Soft-focus time for celebrity offspring

You didn't have to be the son or daughter of somebody famous to be written about in the New York Times Magazine during 2013, but it helped. Last year the Times Magazine published stories about the offspring of David Mamet, Ted Kennedy, Mel Brooks, Stephen King, Mia Farrow and Woody Allen (and perhaps Frank Sinatra?), and Johnny Cash. Expanding the kinship circle to include blood relatives of famous people, we discover additional Times Magazine articles about Ernest Hemingway's granddaughter and Ben Affleck's brother, and a Q&A with Mark Zuckerberg's sister. All of these pieces spring from journalism's gentler provinces, that expanse of lavender and honeybees where tough questions might be asked, but the writer stands ready to catch the subject — "trust game style" — should the question ruffle.

The soft feature has a place in journalism, of course. Not every article need be an interrogation, a prosecution, or an execution to earn our attention. But the uniform generosity exhibited in these Times Magazine pieces poses the question of how many marshmallows a reader should be asked to swallow  before he can ask for a barf bag. Kindness has its place: Children, animals, our colleagues and even prisoners of war deserve a default setting of kindness from us. But, as a former boss of mine loved to say, journalism isn't a Montessori school. Conflict husks the seed to its germ faster and better than the investigative device of kindness. But few celebrities or their kin will submit to the grinder when they know they can get a journalistic massage for the asking. The average value of features produced via celebrity ego-massage might be low, but kindness will deliver future returns, encouraging other celebrities to agree to sit for their own soft-focus portraits.

I single out the Times Magazine for abuse not because it created nepotism. Nor is it the Times Magazine's fault that a certain percentage of famous people owe all or a smidgen of their fame to their ancestry. Nor do I believe the Times Magazine has any exclusive on the easy-does-it-on-the-famous-relatives beat. The style section of your local newspaper, your city magazine and any number of popular titles on the newsstand are likely to contain similar featherweight features and Q&As. It's just because I expect more bites and fewer licks from the alpha dog of journalism. The sogginess of these stories probably has as much to do with the choice of subjects as it does the editorial tip-toeing. It might be possible to write a two-fisted profile of a junior member of the Mamet, Kennedy, Brooks, King, Hemingway, Affleck, Zuckerberg, Farrow, or Cash clans, but I wouldn't want that assignment. Only columnists can reliably make something out of nothing.

To dismiss the Times Magazine profiles and other examples of the genre as nepotism pieces is too harsh. To completely ignore the nepotistic element, though, would constitute malpractice. Our interest in literary, political, business and entertainment celebrities is well-founded: As status-seeking creatures, we constantly chart who is up and who is down inside our orbit, who must be worshiped and who must be shunned, who is sacred and who deserves a fastball to the head, and we hone this skill by practicing it on famous people we've never met. It's the iPhone game you can play without having to whip out an iPhone. Because most of us obsess about the families we come from and the families we've created or married into, it's natural for us to want to measure our families against those of the famous. But that's the amateur anthropologist in me talking, not the professional journalist. Understanding the appeal of sugar-hearted journalism is not the same as justifying it.

from India Insight:

Fear, too busy, too ugly: why India’s famous bachelors stay single

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

from Photographers' Blog:

Two minutes with David Spade

By Mario Anzuoni

I was invited to Sony studios to shoot a portrait of actor David Spade during a lunch break from the taping of his television series "Rules of Engagement".

I anticipated this would be quite a quick opportunity, after being told to be ready promptly at 2 pm to catch David before his lunch. Once there I was told I would be able to set up in their green room, an office type of room (not the most exciting setting for a portrait). As my allotted time approached I kept thinking that it would have been ideal if I would have been able to photograph him on the actual set, placing him into the context of the tv series. As I watched from the sidelines, right before the break, I was introduced to the stage manager.

from Photographers' Blog:

The obituary photo: A life summed up in a single image

By Fred Prouser

In recent days, there has been a spate of celebrity deaths - with each story about the celebrity’s life accompanied by a photograph I took in the past. From Andy Griffiths, producer Richard Zanuck, Sylvester Stallone’s son Sage to Oscar winning actress Celeste Holm, their lives were summed up in a single photograph.

Most often the death is unexpected, so preparations made well in advance of the persons demise come in to play. Aside from a good headshot from a premiere or other event, acquisition of stills from the person’s movie career are a must. It then becomes a mission of online research to locate an appropriate photograph, which could be from the publicist, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, various Halls of Fame or sometimes reaching out to the celebrity’s fan club for that elusive photograph, to get the photo as quickly as possible to go with the story.

from India Insight:

Bollywood stars kick up a fuss with real-life rumpus

Pow! Biff! Bang! Dishoom! Real life action by Bollywood celebrities has caught the nation’s eyeballs. Shah Rukh Khan was accused of roughing up Shirish Kunder some days ago and made ripples as he brought the media’s gaze from corruption scams and the election circus to the one thing that never fails to draw attention -- a spicy brawl.

Now, Saif Ali Khan diverts attention from Vijay Mallya’s king-size woes for beating up a certain businessman in Mumbai’s Taj hotel. Saif was booked for assault, arrested and later bailed -- insisting that he was only defending himself.

from Jack Shafer:

Stop the Chelsea moaning; she’s “somebody”

Allow me to be among the first working journalists to welcome Chelsea Clinton to the Fourth Estate. Clinton, as you probably read in this morning's New York Times, has taken a job with NBC News as a full-time special correspondent and will cover stories for the network's do-gooder "Making a Difference" series.

Please read no snark into my Clinton welcome.

Yes, I know that many of you will deplore the fact that somebody like Clinton with no real journalistic experience but plenty of connections has won a high-ranking reporting position at a broadcast network. Your thought balloons about cronyism, already passing over my office, read, If Chelsea wanted to be a journalist she should have gone to journalism school or gotten an internship and parlayed that into a job covering crime for a paper in the boonies, and then over the years worked her way up.

from Oddly Enough Blog:

Pushing shakes for a sheikh?

OMG, Blog Guy! A few days ago, in an item about Paris Hilton helping open a shopping mall in Poland, you said, "Coming soon, Kim Kardashian appears at a milkshake bar opening in Dubai," and here she is!

Who would have thought you were serious about that?

Come on, it wasn't hard to predict. I mean, the woman was married less than two months ago, she is thought to be the highest-paid reality star on television, so why wouldn't she go to Dubai to promote a milkshake bar? It just makes sense.

from Unstructured Finance:

The law catches up to TL Gilliams

By Matthew Goldstein

Tyrone Gilliams Jr. wanted to live a larger than life story--with much of it playing out last year in videos he had produced and plastered all over the Internet. A year later, Gilliams true life drama has him fighting to maintain his freedom.

On Oct. 5, federal authorities arrested Gilliams and charged him with wire fraud in connection with a $4 million investment scheme that Reuters chronicled in a Special Report in May. As noted in yesterday's arrest story, U.S. prosecutors in New York didn't begin looking into Gilliams until Reuters reported that he allegedly had used some of his investors' money to reinvent himself as a Philadelphia-area philanthropist.

from Royal Wedding Diary:

Press faces royal wedding day dilemmas

Royals9.jpgMedia companies, particularly from Britain and North America, are pouring a lot of resources into covering the April 29 wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton in London. The amount of money they are spending, and the temptation to decide what their millions of viewers want to see, could cloud editorial judgment on the day should things not go according to plan.

One potential problem could be if a small number of protesters turn violent, and attempt to "hijack" an event which the British government believes will be watched in some shape or form by more than a quarter of the Earth's population. This happened only recently in London when a march by up to half a million people protesting at spending cuts by the government was overshadowed by the violent actions of a few hundred "radicals". The British broadcasters generally focussed more closely on the few than on the many, but would they do the same later this month?

from Royal Wedding Diary:

Getting a piece of the royals

Royals7.jpgEveryone, it seems, wants a piece of the royals. From Kate Middleton's dress to the estate of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, people are tripping over themselves to get hold of something with an association to the monarchy.

The most extreme example was probably the 65,000 pounds/$105,000 (plus a 13,000-pound commission) paid out by an unidentified buyer from Jersey for a see-through, black mesh slip dress designed by Charlotte Todd and worn by royal bride-to-be Kate Middleton at a charity fashion event in 2002. The significance of the racy item is that it is widely believed to have convinced Prince William, who was in the audience on that day, that Middleton was the one for him. The couple are to marry in Westminster Abbey on April 29.

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