Vanessa Grigoriadis did the TV shows. The Feb. 21 Rolling Stone, with her Britney Spears story on the cover, was hitting stands.
“Why do people sop up this issue of Rolling Stone?” Larry King asked on Feb 7.
On Feb 10, she went on CNN’s Reliable Sources.
“By writing this piece on everything from her family to her breast implants, haven’t you now joined the mob?” asked host Howard Kurtz.
(For just one thing, Rolling Stone covering Ms. Spears is like Running Times covering Martin Lel, like Yachting covering Paul Allen, like Cat Fancy covering pussycats.)
“I don’t want to be overdramatic about it—but as a media story?” Ms. Grigoriadis said last week, from a donut shop in Long Beach, Calif. “I went on that Howard Kurtz program, and he was like, ‘That’s disgusting, you’re part of the problem.’ And I was like, ‘Uh, you’re a media gossip columnist.’ And everyone can roll their eyes about Britney Spears, but in a few years, when we look back at how the media economy changed? I really feel like she’s going to be the example that people look to.”
She meant, in specific, the robust economy of the TMZ’s and the photo agencies and the tabloids—and that Ms. Spears’ people would “rather talk to X17 than talk to 60 Minutes.”
Now what will Mr. Kurtz make of New York mag editor Adam Moss? This week’s New York features naked pictures of Lindsay Lohan, for no discernible reason. They are kind of gross! (“Lindsay Lohan bla-bla-bla New York Magazine bla-bla-bla boobs,” was the assessment—in full—of a blogger writing at a site called Box Office Psychics.)
Success! On Monday afternoon, Lohan-nipple-induced traffic brought down New York’s Web site.
And! “Thanks to the Britney cover, we had our best week ever in the history of the Web site,” said Nathan Brackett, a senior editor at Rolling Stone. The story doubled RollingStone.com’s daily unique visitors; it and the attendant photo galleries had done 6.9 million page views (as of Valentine’s Day) in the week that it had been online. (The physical magazine’s circulation is somewhere around 1.5 million.)
But Rolling Stone didn’t even publish the piece online—just its first 606 words. This changed the project, a bit, from journalistic endeavor to Internet link-baiting; there is a sense of emptiness at the Web site, whereas the magazine piece is incredibly satisfying.
“I think we thought, why post the stuff for free when people buy it?” said Will Dana, the mag’s executive editor.
“Someday down the road, the Web site will make as much money as the magazine does, and we will be on equal footing,” said Mr. Brackett. (The story will go online in full, as most or all of their features do, around the time the next issue hits stands.)
“Are the online revenues going to replace, equal or exceed what you’re making in the magazine?” said Mr. Dana. “Until the people on the business side are sure they’re going to replace that revenue, that’s how it’s going to be.”
“Would I rather the whole piece was online? Of course,” said Ms. Grigoriadis. “But I understand they have a business to run.”
“Look, we were able to have it both ways,” said Mr. Brackett. “Both the print magazine and the Web site benefited. Maybe we’re not charging enough for ads.”
At least the idea of the piece got around online.
“We’ll feed stuff to Perez like we do to anybody,” said Mr. Brackett.
That is one way that the media economy has changed: the need for regular old Web sites to get periodically hosed down by high-traffic Internet firehoses.
Related: Perez Hilton loved those Lohan pictures!