Jesse McKinley writes a brief The New York Times Week In Review piece sussing out the vaster meaning of gossip Army Archerd’s retirement. He quotes Jessica Coen of Gawker and me. My fuller email answering his questions:
I think Army Archerd’s time, like Liz Smith’s, was over a few decades ago, when gossip stopped being mere gossip and became an industry — or, rather, became the heart if not the soul of media.
People magazine did it.
I was at People in the mid-80s when the stars — and their flacks — began to realize their true value in selling magazine covers. The stars were making the publishers rich. And so it dawned on them that they held magazine editors by the tenders and if they could not share in the wealth they could at least get more control. So they engineered the appearances by stars in magazines and on TV. They tried to demand things like photo approval and even question approval. The gatekeepers in media stopped being editors and became flacks.
At the same time, of course, the remote control and cable brought on the fragmentation of the audience so it was no longer possible to put a Top 10 show on the cover of people and expect blockbuster sales (or, as my editor and mentor, Managing Editor Pat Ryan, used to say in frustration after a Dallas dud, “TV’s dead, Jarvis, it’s dead!”). So to pump up sales, the magazines had to pump up stories and how better to do it than to forget promoting the star’s show and start dishing on the star’s divorce.
Gossip went mainstream.
So the old days of press agents talking to friendly columnists to drop carefully controlled crumbs about a celebrity’s alleged life were over.
The internet doesn’t really alter that though perhaps it amplifies it: It gives us gossip at the speed of bits and lets all of us bloggers snark at the stars as if we were gossip columnists.
And in the interest of full disclosure, I, too, was once a gossip columnist: the nth sacrificial lamb put up against Herb Caen in San Francisco. I left in the early ’80s, just as all this was happening, to come to people (and when I did, my editor at the Examiner said, “What, got tired of journalism?”). Look how times have changed: Now there isn’t a media property out there that doesn’t ape People.
[Full disclosure re The Times here. Note that I have a fuller full disclosure now; more on that later.]