All roads lead to Rome, and all journalistic trends lead to Watergate . . . or from Watergate. Russ Smith was recently asked how celebrity journalism became such a rampant journalistic disease, and he responded, “Watergate . . . changed this country’s daily papers’ newsrooms inalterably, for better or worse depending upon your perspective.” It seems that after Woodward and Bernstein fulfilled the “higher calling” of journalism to its most shining glory, journalism became popular—or perhaps it was the fame from cracking open a scandal that became popular, not journalism itself.
The first line of an article about celebrity journalism starts: “Two journalists were playing golf.” It sounds like the beginning of a joke, and the story continues to reveal that it is, in part, a joke. One journalist, Tony Kornheiser, spent significant time on televised newscast. Many people approached him during the golf game to chat a little with him. Ironically enough, the other journalist, Woodward (surprise, surprise), received zero recognition during the entire golf game. How could one of the most famous reporters who covered one of the most famous reports not be recognized while a local television newscaster receives a plethora of recognition? That’s easy: the medium of reporting. Newspaper reporters enjoy the anonymity that comes with paper news whereas television reporters enjoy the fame that comes with visual media broadcast.
Woodward himself, though, calls celebrity journalism a “curse,” even though it’s his story that seemed to initiate this trend. The difference between celebrity journalism and what Woodward did is evidenced by the golf game. Woodward remains somewhat anonymous (by physical recognition) even when his story was one of the biggest ever. And that’s the thing: his story was one of the biggest ever. There seems to have been an evolution that took place during the introduction and popularization of television news broadcasts. This was the infotainment revolution. When people began to expect news coverage to entertain them (infotainment), those delivering the news had to also be attractive and celebrity-like just as a performer delivering entertainment would have to be attractive. Because of the emphasis placed on appearance in the news reporters, the news was prioritized as second place. That is when journalist celebrity becomes a menace, I think. When the celebrity trumps the journalist is when the “curse” is in full effect.