Inside The Tabloid Engine in Hollywood

27 Jul

First of a five week series on The Paparazzi & Gossip Industry.

By Open Book

We’ve written about  tabloid and gossip from different vantage points here on LIH.  In previous articles Hollywood Spin Doctor: Part 1 & Part 2 and The Future of Gossip we reviewed some of  the key players today. However, we wanted to look back at the tabloid and gossip industries origins to get an even better understanding of how it all works today.

Tabloid/Gossip Origins:

Believe it or not reading British obituaries is how it all started. Back in the 18th century the most popular sections of newspapers and magazines were the obituaries of unusual people according to Dr. Elizabeth Barry, from an article on called Modern Gossip Magazine Culture Began with Celebrity Obituaries she states;[1]

People from all walks of life could now become famous for being eccentric, rather than for historically momentous achievements. She added: “This period also witnessed a change in attitude towards fame that recognized the significance in a newly commercial environment of popular tastes and appetite.”

The period she’s referring to is the Romantic Movement, which began out of people’s enmity toward the rigidity of social structures and materialism.  In poetry, novels and paintings this movement saw suicide as a sign of artistic affirmation.[2]  This may be the reason obituaries were so intriguing at the time, add to that, scandal and the rest is history.

Let’s fast forward to the 1950’s, gossip, sleaze and Confidential Magazine. Confidential Magazine started as a semimonthly New York magazine by Robert Harrison. It featured racy stories of homosexual weddings, pictures of women in their underwear etc…. all of which was fictional and fabricated by Harrison in his New York Apartment in the early 1950’s.  But Harrison appetite for sleaze was about to get even sleazier after the Antitrust rulings of the 1950’s.

Decades before Confidential, The Motion Picture Production Code defined Hollywood’s image according to Henry E. Scott in a book called Shocking True Story he states;

“No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it,” the code stipulated. In the service of that principle, it stipulated that “passion should be treated in such manner as not to stimulate the lower and baser emotions.” Its earliest versions demanded moral retribution for every sin, including sex out of wedlock. Thanks to its strictures, abortions and illicit drug use were as rare on the screen as were homosexuality and miscegenation.”

To make a long story short many believed the immoral lifestyles of the 1920’s caused the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  Therefore movie studios created “The Code” to legitimize an industry started in the crime ridden slums of America. In the 1930’s in the contracts of all movie stars there were moral clauses to insure the public that movie stars private lives mirrored their wholesome movie images.  Yet, the clauses did not protect the studio system and in the 1950’s the Golden Age came crashing down due to the Supreme Court in 1948 Antitrust rulings which, forced the five largest studios MGM, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers and RKO to vertically disintegrate and separate production and distribution from exhibition.[3]  Leading ladies and men were free to pursue other ventures outside the studio system but that meant they would no longer be under the protection of the studios, which paid them regular salaries and for publicist.  Due to this change Confidential Magazine was quickly chipping away at Hollywood’s innocent, moral image studios worked so hard to create.[4]

Inside The Tabloid Engine:

In the 1950’s and 60’s the outlandish stories of celebrities was almost entirely fictional. Writers would sprinkle their stories with some truth to make the stories seem believable.  Add to that sources and experts tabloids make up to confirm just about anything.  The majority of stories tabloids thrive on is Celebrity News.  A large portion of celebrity news actually comes from celebrities themselves via publicist. In an article on How Tabloids Work written by Ed Grabianowski explains,[5]

Some stars build a working relationship with a tabloid, offering inside stories in exchange for the free publicity. At other times, the tabloid will accept inside stories while agreeing to avoid running harsh or negative stories about a certain star. The studios even leak information about upcoming movies or the scripts for the new season of a TV show to get publicity for the show.

The history of tabloid and gossip is a vast one and seems to be even more popular today with the internet. Do you think celebrity gossip today is similar to the 1950’s and 60’s?  What are your thoughts?

Please join us for a discussion on Thursday 7/28/2011@ 7pmE/12UTC

105 Responses to “Inside The Tabloid Engine in Hollywood”

  1. Littlebells July 27, 2011 at 12:02 PM #

    FANTASTIC!!!!! I remember “The Code” when I was doing the musical articles and it was quite interesting. I can’t wait for this discussion. You did a tremendous job and I know you had a lot of information to sort through. 🙂

    • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 4:21 PM #

      Since obviously neither organization is protected from law suits, I hope we define how tabloid or gossip magazines differ from traditional journalism.

      • Littlebells July 28, 2011 at 7:08 PM #


  2. Parisienne July 27, 2011 at 7:03 PM #

    Open Book,

    GREAT JOB! What percentage of a tabloid story today is fictional and how much is truth?

  3. Open Book July 28, 2011 at 12:25 PM #

    Hi Everyone-

    Here is a transcript of an interview of the author Henry Scott who I talked about in my article. He wrote the book “Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of Confidential.”

  4. Open Book July 28, 2011 at 5:06 PM #


    This quote below is from an article on Gossip on ( it defines the difference between gossip and rumor very well.

    “Gossip is a conversation, spoken or written, about the private lives of other people, usually who are not present and often judgmental. Social scientists now define gossip as information having a basis in fact. A rumor, on the other hand, is unverified information that generally is untrue and has no identifiable source.”

    Also, what do u think of this gossip columnist explaining what he does? Please watch video.

    • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 6:25 PM #

      I listened to the tape you provided regarding tabloid journalism and honestly I’m not sure any of that was a discussion about quality writing or reporting at all.

      Is the topic of “quality writing” just a joke, when audience interest or voyearism funds these papers? Is it immature to even bring up these concerns when that by itself doesn’t necessarily sell magazines?

      • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:11 PM #

        There is no such thing as quality journalism in tabloid/gossip. Let’s get that out of the way.

        Most tabloid/gossip embellish and sensationalize stories to get people to buy them. Did u read the article on Katie Holmes above?

        • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:14 PM #

          Yes, did you post that to say that repercussions still matter in tabloid land?

          • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:18 PM #

            Yes! But many celebs do not sue because often times these tabloids don’t have the money to pay the damages. Also, many are fearful of the bad press it will generate so they choose not to fight back. It’s quite sad!

            • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:21 PM #

              I can agree it might be very sad for celebrities who get abused by these kinds of accusations. Something negative is planted in the general public’s minds and they have little ability to fight back

              • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:28 PM #

                Yes! And many tabloids will get little stories from drivers, maids, body guards or an ex of a celeb.

              • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 7:29 PM #

                Yes, that must be most frustrating.

                • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:38 PM #

                  Is it insentitive to, turn a way and ask about the phenonmena’s impact of what whe think about journalism?

                  • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:41 PM #

                    Well journalism is slowly becoming like gossip

                  • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:42 PM #


                    • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:43 PM #


                      I recently read an article in People magazine about Jaycee Lee Dugard. She wasn’t a celebrity but became one after she was released from her kidnappers. She was shot with a stun gun when she was eleven; she was abducted, raped, and kept in secret for 18 years. This was a traditional news story, yet I wonder what happens when this story is moved through the same channels that bring us Kim Kardassian’s wedding plans or Paris Hilton’s latest charity.
                      Sorry this video really long.

                    • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 8:05 PM #

                      There’s a magazine like that in the UK. It started off mixing light gossip with important news from around the world. It’s gradually sunk to this low gossip journalism that’s around now and only has one or two pieces of inmportant news.

  5. Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:06 PM #

    Welcome Everyone!

  6. comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:07 PM #

    Hi, Open Book.

  7. ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 7:09 PM #

    I’m here! Got to catch up though.

  8. Littlebells July 28, 2011 at 7:09 PM #

    Hi OB and CR!

    Sorry I’m late!

    • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:11 PM #

      Hi LB, Ozzie and CR!

      • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 7:21 PM #

        Hi OB!

  9. comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:11 PM #

    Hi, Ozzie and Littlebells.

    • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 7:27 PM #

      Hi CR!

  10. Littlebells July 28, 2011 at 7:13 PM #

    “She’s well known to phone the paparazzi ahead of time to let her (them) know where she’s going to be heading out to. She’s not alone. Many celebrities and socialites do this also with the hope of being photographed and appearing in a magazine.”

    I think this is very true and I think that is quite sad. Sad in the fact that their are people who are so desperate for attention.

    • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:17 PM #

      I’m glad you brought that up.

      Do legitimately trained and experienced actors care about their craft if they are selling their personal lives with the latest reality show flavor of the month? Unfortunately if you are selling aspect of your personal life like Snooki or the Situation, don’t I have right to ignore an actor’s movies as I equally ignore Jersey Shore?

      • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 7:26 PM #

        Wow that’s a really good point CR! I think the answer is yes, for me anyway. I have been a fan of celebrities and when I found out they were really over the top selling their personal life, it has turned me off them. I understand pr is necessary but not to the point where your whole life is up for grabs.

        • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:30 PM #

          Thanks Ozzie,

          I AGREE WITH YOU.

          I think the tabloid reporting about Angelina and Brad is more interesting than their movies. In this case doesn’t tabloid journalism do the opposite of what it’s supposed to do?

          • Littlebells July 28, 2011 at 7:34 PM #


            I forgot to say that I think legitimately trained actors who take their career seriously do NOT want to be flaunted in the mags. Obviously I don’t know, but from the few people I talk to that are trying to break into the industry, they do not want scandal or gossip trailing them. They want to do their job, be appreciated for their work, and go home.

      • Littlebells July 28, 2011 at 7:30 PM #

        I agree with Ozzie. However, if an actor has legit talent, I will still go see their movies. But on the whole, I just lose a lot of respect for someone who is willingly selling their personal lives. I do realize some if not most of it is just for show, but I just don’t understand that need to be seen. If I were a celebrity, I would work so hard to keep my private life under wraps and only show up to things I HAVE to be.

        • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:37 PM #

          Well first let me say in a lot of respect. The bigger u are the bigger target u are for blackmail etc….. So many big celebs have no other choice but to cooperate with these tabloids. Some will threaten celebs with negative info if they don’t give them exclusive inside info. Does that make sense!

          • Littlebells July 28, 2011 at 7:40 PM #

            Yes, OB, you are very right. I guess that’s when a celebrity tries to establish a good relationship with the paparazzi so any press is more positive than negative.

          • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 7:41 PM #

            Yes it does make sense. It also makes me feel sick that people can be treated like this or other people are willing to sink that low to get a scoop. But work, is work I guess and that is how it goes in Hollywood.

            • Littlebells July 28, 2011 at 7:44 PM #

              But don’t you think that’s because society demands it? If humans could just appreciate the good things that happen to people, people wouldn’t have to be so protective of their private lives.

              • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 7:57 PM #

                Yes, I do think it is because of demand and it’s a shame. I often wonder if it truly can be changed though. I’d like to think it can be. Isn’t that one of the points of this site? We may be small but at least it’s one way to think more intelligently. A different view point for those who are sick of the gossip blogger’s way.

                • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:03 PM #

                  I think gossip prey’s on emotionally wounded people. IMO!! I think if u have integrity u can empathize with people. Also, gossiping is very immature. As we become more and more short hand in our communication. We also get lazy in our thinking.

                  • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 8:06 PM #

                    Yes, that is true too.

                  • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:09 PM #

                    I’m glad he seems to have turned the whole thing around but I remember when there were reports that Owen Wilson attempted suicide. The resulting coverage could not have been good for his condition but if you’re right that gossip preys on emotionally wounded people; this can’t be good.

                    • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:13 PM #

                      Yes! Good point CR!

            • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:45 PM #

              Yes! It’s a sort of like damned if u do and damned if u don’t. Like I said in my article many will strike deals to give tabloids stories about their personal life just to keep them from publishing outlandish crazy stuff about them. Also, if u work for a studio who uses tabloids to promote their films and actors excessively, then the actors are doubly screwed.

              • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:52 PM #

                I think you once said Kate Blanchett, absolutely doesn’t play the popularity or gossip game with the tabloids, and she reaps so many rewards for it.

                • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:56 PM #

                  Yes! But she also does not live in LA. That really helps keep u out of the tabs as well.

                  • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:59 PM #

                    well, everyone can’t move to Australia.

    • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:21 PM #

      Well first there is a difference in actors and musician’s publicity.Pop musicians career thrive on outlandish stories. Actors on the other hand suffer from crazy publicity. Does that make sense?

      • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:28 PM #

        Are you saying this because actors must depend on some level of animity to assume new roles?

        • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:31 PM #

          Exactly!!! Too much time in the press is not good for allowing people to see them as other characters.

        • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:32 PM #

          I’m sorry “ANONIMITY”.

          • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:34 PM #

            Thanks. I believe this must really twist a lot of celebrities in knots. They’re foolish if they do and foolish if they don’t…. try to sell themselves in tabloids.

            • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 7:42 PM #

              Very true. I bet it is a fine line to walk when you are a celebrity.

  11. Littlebells July 28, 2011 at 7:13 PM #

    I have to step out for a moment, but I will be back.

    • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:16 PM #

      No problem! See u later….

  12. Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:15 PM #

    While everyone is reading and getting caught up. I should let u know Jossip is no longer in circulation.

    • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 7:28 PM #

      I vaguely remember Jossip. What was it again?

      • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:33 PM #

        Did u see the video I provided? Jossip was affiliated with Anyway, in the video the editor of Jossip explains how they develop stories.

        • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 7:47 PM #

          Oh, right! I just listened to it while I was catching up here so I didn’t see who it was.

          I found it amusing to find “close sources” were usually just paparrazi. I had known about publisist filling that role. I thought paparrazi just took photos. It really does show that usually all of these “sources” are fake and have some kind of monetary investment in the article being printed.

          • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:51 PM #


            Actually, did u read the transcript of the interview of the author of the book about the editor of Confidential magazine? Anyway Confidential was a 1950’s TMZ or Star magazine. He was known to have only been to HW twice and all his stories were about HW movie stars.

            • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 7:59 PM #

              Yes, I did and found it ironic! 🙂

  13. Littlebells July 28, 2011 at 7:31 PM #


    • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:45 PM #

      she’s talking about the….

      ….article. You may want to come back to it later; it’s kind of long.

  14. Littlebells July 28, 2011 at 7:43 PM #

    What is interesting is that no matter how much gossip and crap these websites and magazines publish, if people/society wasn’t so fascinated, the gossip industry would fall apart. And it’s not just with celebrities. Look in your own neighborhoods. Neighbors gossiping about other neighbors! I’m guilty of it, or have been. In the last five years or so I’ve really tried to stay away from the gossiping hens.

    Humans are so quick to ridicule others and I don’t understand why. I have an idea, but I think that’s just a cop out.

    • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 7:47 PM #

      Please share your theory LB on why people gossip! I have one as well!

      • Littlebells July 28, 2011 at 7:54 PM #

        Well, I think a lot of people suffer from low self-esteem. And when you tear someone down and complain about their life choices and how crummy their life seems, it makes the gossiper feel better about their own situation.

        When I have gossiped I always felt like cow turd, so I realized I needed figure out why I was doing it. I say low self-esteem is a cop out because everyone has a choice as to how they want to feel. Sometimes it takes a lot of hard effort to get a positive image but it can be done.

        • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:19 PM #

          U notice many of these tabloids don’t stay in business for very long. U can’t build a house on lies and expect to survive. IMO!!

        • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:32 PM #


          I think during a recession this is when gossip is the most in demand. People feel alone and like to read about celebs who appear like things will all come crashing down then they don’t feel so alone.

    • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 7:50 PM #

      Isn’t it a base instinct to make one feel better than someone else? I’m sure I’ve heard that theory somewhere in gossip pyschology.

      • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:54 PM #

        Great swing, Ozzie.

        • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 7:56 PM #

          ….meaning great attempt to hit the ball. (a foolish baseball analogy)

          • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 8:00 PM #

            I figured it out but thanks for clarifying! Wasn’t quite 100% spot on with it’s meaning! 🙂 *blushes*

            • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:02 PM #

              chuckle, chuckle…

  15. comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:01 PM #

    I recently read a story about Britney Spears body guard suing her for harmful work conditions and environment due to her B.O. What I loved about this story was I was finally relieved of ever having to buy her music because the story confirmed she is a health hazard. Again isn’t this an example of tabloid journalism destroying actual artists (no joke intended).

    • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:08 PM #

      Well u have to first Q the source and see if this is a defamation suit on BS part. I mean a tabloid writer may overhear a body guard say BS stinks and soon u have a lawsuit. Anyway, always use caution when reading these stories.

      • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:12 PM #

        I guess my point was tabloids seem to suggest they are presenting the news but if stops interest in celebrities who is it helping?

        • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:12 PM #

          What happened to LB?

          • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 8:15 PM #

            She’s seeing to her children I think.

          • littlebells July 28, 2011 at 8:17 PM #

            At the pool and trying to catch up without hubs noticing! :/

            • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:21 PM #

              LOL!!! Say hello to Mr. Bells!!

  16. comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:18 PM #


    Speaking of Gossip I think I heard that the UK’s magazines are much worse than ours. When there are reports about what happened to Princess Di, american journalists seem to be emphsizing that.

    • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:18 PM #

      On the other hand your arts coverage is much, much, much, better than ours.

      • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 8:31 PM #

        Yes, over here it can be quite brutal. Once you’ve done something the press does not like, they will try and bring you down any way they can. The big thing at the moment is the phone hacking scandal. They targeted celebrities to begin with and then moved on to victims of crime (I still haven’t figured out what information the could gleam from them and it makes me sick just thinking about it). Anyway, that was mostly done by the News of the World and all the other publications (plus politicians and public out cry) put so much pressure on it they shut it down. They can quite qickly kill the career of politicians and other figures high up in the business world. It seems once they’ve got their teeth into you they won’t let go.

        Hmm, that was longer than I thought it would be! 🙂

        • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:35 PM #

          I’m hoping someone ( one of us) addresses this topic the next few weeks. It’s really groundbreaking in regard to whether anyone ability to fight back.

          • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:36 PM #

            “HAS” the ability to fight back.

        • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:43 PM #

          Thanks Ozzie! That’s very interesting. In researching this topic I found how ruthless British tabloids are. They also have stayed in business longer then American tabloid mags I’ve noticed.

          • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:45 PM #

            I hope with this hacking incident this will shut them down.

  17. Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:29 PM #

    Here is a scenario: What if I got pictures of u holding a dead animal and then claim I saw u stabbing and stuffing it into a dumpster etc…. When u were actually trying to rescue the animal who’d been hit by a car but the animal died before u could get help. Anyway, a tabloid writer has to decide what story will get the most money and the real story does not and this is where the problem stems.

    • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:32 PM #

      …that scenario presents a terrible dilemna. I guess I would fear what the tabloid juornalist would choose.

    • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 8:33 PM #

      Hmmm, greed often seems to win more than real reporting. At least there a some good journalists.

      • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:37 PM #

        SOOOOOOOO! Agree…..

        I think ultimately, it is up to the consumer…. We have the power to choose and demand better reporting.

        • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:45 PM #

          I absolutely want to agree with you. Because celebrities seem to have little ability to change thigs on their own.

          Recently Reese Witherspoon was critical of some of the socialites and their sex tapes, but the minute she named them, their star meters probably jumped. Do you guys think this phenomenon is here to stay or do you think it will subside?

          • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:49 PM #

            I hate to say it but it depends on the economy IMO! I think gossip is a cancer if u indulge, it will take over which leads to doubt, anxiety, anger and fear in your own life. U can’t suck on negative content and expect to feel good about yourself or even get inspired.

            • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:53 PM #

              I like what Ozzie said about good journalists. They may yet turn this situation around. They know how necessary their job are and in the best situations I’m sure they help steer out attantion in the right places.

              I keep thinking about the reporting pertaining to the US’s Watergate crisis.

              Journalists turned the tide.

              • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:55 PM #

                Yes! They used “deep throat” to do it! Again it was a anonymous source that brought down Nixon u know?

                • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:58 PM #

                  You make it seem like we need better content to pull us out of out cultural quagmire.

                  I guess we cab talk about our presses freedom of speech challenges another time.

                  • Open Book July 28, 2011 at 9:02 PM #

                    ITA! Better content and well paid journalist with integrity who can resist the temptation to prostitute themselves for money. That’s what gossip writing turns people into IMO!!

  18. littlebells July 28, 2011 at 8:34 PM #

    Still here. Haha!

  19. Open Book July 28, 2011 at 8:50 PM #


    We have ten minutes to the discussion. Do u have anymore Q or comments?

    • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 8:53 PM #

      I don’t think so…

  20. comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:54 PM #

    I’m fine.

    Good article, I’m glad were back on this topic.

    • comic relief July 28, 2011 at 8:55 PM #

      Night all.

  21. Open Book July 28, 2011 at 9:03 PM #

    Goodnight Everyone!

    • ozzie20 July 28, 2011 at 9:06 PM #

      Night all! It’s been a very interesting and enlightening discussion.

  22. Littlebells July 29, 2011 at 12:27 PM #

    Excellent discussion! I’m sorry I couldn’t be more active yesterday. 😦 When I have a chance I’m coming back to this discussion because you really got my wheels turning!

  23. rtyecript August 25, 2011 at 3:13 PM #

    I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

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