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Joe Dolce: 'All Media Have Gone More Tabloid'
The new editor-in-chief of Star Magazine -- the supermarket tabloid turned glossy -- insists that the media are not oversaturated on celebrity: "People simply want this kind of information."

By Patrick Phillips
I Want Media, 01/07/04


Joe Dolce is the editor-in-chief of Star Magazine, the American Media supermarket tabloid relaunching today as a glossy magazine. Dolce was named to the position just three weeks ago, after serving as an editorial consultant for Star since last May. He was previously editor-in-chief of Details and has been a consulting editor at Playboy and a contributing editor to both Gourmet and Us Weekly.

In a brief chat with I Want Media, Dolce reveals why he prefers tabloids for certain news stories, describes rival celebrity title In Touch as a "fake magazine," admits that both he and American Media editorial chief Bonnie Fuller are "tough bosses" -- and explains why Paris Hilton is a celebrity.



I Want Media: What's happening to Star Magazine?

Joe Dolce: First of all, we thank Bonnie Fuller and we thank Britney Spears. That will guarantee us a very good launch. [laughter]

Star is becoming a glossy. It has new sections and a much more organized format. We've launched a very large gossip area in the magazine, added pages of fashion and beauty, and upped the entertainment coverage. We've toned down the design a bit, making it a little more sophisticated. The photography is much more energetic. We've changed the colors as well, to be a little less circus-like. We're doing things that befit the new glossy-page format.

The tone has changed; the writing is more anecdotal. Tabloid writing is a particular beast. Our magazine is now more ... magaziney, obviously. The first issue is "Britney's Wild 55-Hour Marriage." The whole story. It's really good. What a difference a glossy page makes.

IWM: Star is no longer a supermarket tabloid?

Dolce: Right now it's a glossy magazine in 21 percent of the country, in the New York and Los Angeles regions. In 79 percent of the country it's still published in the tabloid format.

There are five printing plants that print Star. In order for them to be outfitted with all the equipment necessary to change from rotogravure to offset printing (forgive me if you start falling asleep during this) it just takes a large period of time. Within the next several weeks, all of the plants will come on line. Then we'll all see the full revamp of Star Magazine.

IWM: After the transformation is complete, Star Magazine -- as a supermarket tabloid -- will be history?

Dolce: Exactly. And what a history it was.

IWM: What is the mission of the new Star Magazine?

Dolce: The new Star Magazine fills a gap. If People is the granddaddy of celebrity magazines and Us Weekly is the upstart adolescent, then there's an enormous gap between those two. And In Touch is sort of just a fake magazine, right? They don't report any stories. Tell me the last story they broke in their glorious two years of history. I mean, there has to be some news content to a celebrity news magazine.

So there's a huge place in the middle -- between the grandfather and the upstart adolescent -- to fill. I think Star will fill that with solid and strong news reporting and good, affordable, great-looking fashion pages, and a lot of energy. And some humor, too.

IWM: Doesn't that description sound a lot like Us Weekly?

Dolce: It doesn't sound at all like Us Weekly. We're both in the world of celebrity journalism, so we both cover celebrities. But in terms of the news we deliver, Star is a much different product. The range of celebrities we cover is much wider. Us Weekly is very geared to a young audience. We'll cover young stars as well as celebrities like Roy Horn [of Siegfried & Roy], Liza Minnelli, David Gest ...

IWM: Some observers say that the sensational coverage of stories like Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant and Laci Peterson has spread throughout mainstream media. Have publications like the Star influenced other media?

Dolce: You're referring to the tabloid version, right? Yes. All media have gone more tabloid, certainly. Tabloids are gutsy and break news. In that way, television news has taken on a more aggressive stance. And that's one reason why the tabloids have a problem in the marketplace today, because many magazines and television news have taken on a tabloid voice. They've diluted what the tabloid once was.

IWM: Some people don't hold tabloid journalism in a very high regard. What's your attitude?

Dolce: Listen, in terms of the O.J. Simpson trial, I read the tabloids first when I wanted to know what was going on, because they were always ahead in the news. It depends on the story, basically. There are certain things that I have always gone to the tabloids for as a reader. They're more aggressive. They work on a tighter focus, basically. They really dig into the story.

I'll add the Bill Clinton sex scandal to that. I know that reporters of the New York Times and the Washington Post followed the tabloids [for that story].

IWM: Your colleague Bonnie Fuller has been described as "the queen of the lowest common denominator." Gwyneth Paltrow once called her "the devil" for ratcheting up consumer interest in celebrity gossip. Why do you think Bonnie elicits such strong reactions?

Dolce: Success always elicits a strong reaction. "Lowest common denominator"? I don't get that. I think Bonnie's always been about reaching wide audiences with mass market publications. If some people think mass equals "lowest common denominator," so be it. But I don't believe in that.

As for Gwyneth Paltrow, she's an angel. But she lives in the public eye. I don't know what history Bonnie and Gwyneth have between them. But Gwyenth is a celebrity; she's going to be reported on. I think Gwyneth would learn a lesson if she would just cooperate and have a little more fun with her fans and sort of give them a little something. That's my opinion.

IWM: Bonnie Fuller is reportedly a tough boss. Is that true?

Dolce: We have a really good collaboration. And I enjoy working with her, or I wouldn't have taken this position and worked so hard at it. We share a common aim, which is to break stories, deliver news and make an exciting magazine. When you're turning a product from one thing into another it's just a big job. We're creating a new magazine while trying not to alienate our old readers. So, are we both tough bosses? Yeah, as a matter of fact, we're both tough bosses. It requires a terrible effort. A terrible effort. And it has to be done.

IWM: Us Weekly editor Janice Min recently said that "celebrities have infiltrated our media in a way you haven't seen even five years ago." Are we oversaturated on celebrity?

Dolce: Apparently not. It seemed like every news channel and newspaper in New York this week was covering Britney Spears and her marriage. How can you say that we're oversaturated? People simply want this kind of information. And as long as Britney continues to misbehave, we're here to cover it.

IWM: Who will be the hot celebrities of 2004?

Dolce: Bonnie Fuller, me, you ... [laughter]. Oh, I don't know. We'll have to see who behaves really badly first, then we'll judge. I would never be able to predict the behavior of celebrities. I'm just not that smart. Last Saturday night when I heard about Britney Spear's marriage I thought this just cannot be possible. This is going to ruin my weekend but make my week.

IWM: I have to ask: When will Paris Hilton's 15 minutes be over?

Dolce: Oh, not for a long time yet. She's excellent at maintaining her celebrity status. She has a shelf life.

IWM: Why is Paris Hilton a celebrity? What makes her interesting?

Dolce: I guess because she has a certain beauty to her. But there's more than that, certainly. She likes to misbehave. And she doesn't have a lot of compunction about it. She's very brazen and open. She's also got a television show, which is quite amusing. And she comes from a very wealthy family, with a great lineage. On top of that she keeps getting herself into delightful amounts of trouble. Who can resist? She's sort of irresistible, isn't she?

IWM: Maybe "Mr. Britney Spears" will only have 15 minutes?

Dolce: Actually, he had 55 hours. I hope it was good for him.



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