Once upon a time, journalists used to interview celebrities. But now stars are doing the questioning and the answering themselves.
Alicia Keys (search), Ben Affleck, Pamela Anderson (search) and reality star Trista Sutter are only some of the famous figures who have recently found their nose for news, reporting on everything from travel to relationships to health to politics.
But critics say these celebs — and the editors who hire them — are taking valuable jobs away from journalists and weakening the quality of published material.
"Of course it will take jobs away from trained journalists. Publishers today, in their eternal greed, as long as an author is bringing in money, they don't care about quality or credibility," said 50-year journalism veteran and New York University professor Dick Blood (search). "I wouldn't read an article by Ben Affleck unless someone paid me an enormous amount of money."
Writing offers have been pouring in for the former half of Bennifer since he interviewed John Kerry's daughters for this month's issue of Harper's Bazaar, his spokesman told USA Today. Features director Alison Fabian told the paper they hired J-Lo's ex because he knows the daughters, is interested in politics and is an Oscar-winning screenwriter (for "Good Will Hunting").
But this resume does not impress Blood.
"Ben Affleck is not qualified to report on anything. He has no training in reporting. He knows nothing of balance, of attribution, of confirmation, words that mean something to us."
Editors, however, defend the practice of hiring stars for scoops. Michelle Leifer, a New York Daily News staffer who has been editing singer Alicia Keys' travel columns since July, says the 23-year-old Grammy-winner is a good writer who brings a fresh voice to the paper.
“We really admire her and our readers really love her," said Leifer. "What I like about her is she’s very youthful. She's seeing these places for the first time. It's all very exciting for her."
As for whether Keys has the credentials to be writing for the paper, Leifer thinks she makes the cut.
“I think she is qualified to be writing journalistically. She’s just a writer in general. I went to grad school for journalism. What training is there other than doing it?"
Stacy Morrison, the new editor in chief at Redbook (search) magazine who has just launched a new celebrity-written column called "My Life as a New Wife," says the formula works because people are automatically interested in what stars have to say.
"There's always that immediate, built-in interest factor," said Morrison. "Star and In Touch magazines wouldn’t be what they are today if people didn’t care about what celebrities eat for breakfast. People love to see that celebrities aren’t that different from them."
"My Life as a New Wife" is currently being written by former "Bachelorette" Trista Sutter (search), who changed her last name from Rehn when she wed poet-fireman Ryan Sutter. Other celebs will take over the column in the near future, Morrison said.
But Blood said the celebritization of journalism is only an extension of another trend he finds troubling: pop culture's increasing presence in the news.
"All of that stuff is full of baloney and public relations-driven bubblegum for the mind. It takes up space in a newspaper. How many really serious meaningful stories don’t get in the paper because Britney Spears said something? It’s easier to sit there and read popcorn than to think about invading Iraq."
Dhaval Mehta, a 22-year-old writer who has spent the last year since graduating from a journalism program unsuccessfully looking for a job in his field, complained that hiring celebrities to write articles hurts journalists and readers alike.
"Pamela Anderson is a columnist at Jane magazine? She has no journalism background. By hiring completely unqualified celebs to write, it shows the public that these organizations are after money. They don’t care about issues that are covered."
On the other hand, Mehta said if he were an editor, he'd also consider combing Hollywood for scribes.
"What housewife is not gonna jump at Trista Rehn? If I wanted to make a profit and sell more copies of my magazine, I'd do the same thing."