How digital cameras made the stalkerazzi feasible – and what that tells us about print journalism’s future

Good piece by Decca Aitkenhead about the life of the paparazzi in Guardian Weekend, notable for a few particular paragraphs:

Three big changes have transformed the world of the paparazzi in the past 10 years. The first, and most radical, was digitalisation. Today you need camera kit worth little more than £500, and no photographic training, to have a crack at working as a pap – which is why their average age has plummeted. It also explains why their numbers have soared. But the second change came after a 2004 BBC documentary series, Paparazzi, which followed the biggest agency in Britain, Big Pictures. “It made it look easy,” one paparazzo complains indignantly. “We had a secret recipe, and they blew it. They told everyone the ingredients. It was so stupid. The makers of Coca-Cola don’t tell you what they put in Coke, do they?”

So digital is driving down prices of getting into the market. But…

A full-page picture of Kate, Keira, Kylie or Sienna – the most reliably bankable big four – sells to a celebrity magazine such as Heat for only £200, while a set of pictures of, say, Liz Hurley shopping, which could once have fetched £6,000 from a tabloid, sells for only £800.

So digital is also increasing the supply – which is forcing prices down. In consequence…

Mark Frith, editor of Heat, recalls how, back in the 90s, the daily delivery of paparazzi pictures to Smash Hits, where he then worked, would arrive in a single A4 envelope. Today he receives between 10,000 and 20,000 electronic images every day.

And then there’s the final piece of the puzzle:

Frith dates another major change to an issue of Now magazine in spring 2003. “It carried pictures of three celebs not looking that great. And the cover line was something like ‘ROUGH!’ I remember that issue coming into the Heat office and thinking, they have finally flipped. The first rule of magazines is you never put anyone on the cover looking awful. A week later the circulation figures came in. They’d sold something like 700,000 copies, one of their highest figures ever. And it changed everything. It changed every rule.”

So here’s what digitisation has done to professional photography: driven down the cost of entry; driven down the value you get from the product you produce; increased the number of potential outlets; and created an entirely new field, in this case of “celebrity abuse”, of essentially looking behind the curtain at what’s seen.

Now we get the same process happening with words: the price of entry is really, really low. There’s more product, though the quality.. well, it’s variable: the really good stuff is fantastic, and there’s a lot of simply good stuff. But the range is enormous. Has the median gone up or down? I’d leave others to judge.

There are more outlets. And there’s a huge amount of “looking behind how it’s done” by blogs – not really adding anything that you could call “journalism” (in the sense of finding out something that’s new), but it serves an interest of trying to “analyse” – a sort of journopapping.

What we’re seeing with celebrity photographers is surely going to find its echo with journalism. I wonder what strange niche we’re going to find flowering in the way that “rough-looking celebs” has for the photographers? Is it already here? And what is it?


  1. “looking behind it’s done” : I’m having trouble parsing that. Is there a “how” missing from that or is it some other word?

    I’m interested that you suggest journalism is to do with finding something new : I would have said that it was more about adding informed commentary to stuff that was widely known about but that involved background to make sense of. Sure there is the whole “breaking news” thing, but is that the main part of journalism?

  2. Charles

    Monday 17 December 2007 at 3:08 pm

    @L: yes, it should have read “looking behind how it’s done” – now changed.

    Journalism is, generally, finding out something that the reader didn’t know, or pulling together facts that hadn’t been pulled together. Whether that’s “context” or “finding stuff out” is something of a definitional task.

  3. On your last para… the strange niche and whether it’s here already. Well, I reckon ‘it’ is, and it’s Popbitch/Holy Moly et al. The wicked-whispers bitching that sleb mags wouldn’t have touched a few years ago.

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