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Inside the ugliest secret of covering SA showbiz

2019-02-10 00:00

Writing about the world of showbiz, they hover for selfies around celebs and attend all glitzy events where envelopes are opened, yet end up doing little more than finish the liquor at the open bar. What nobody dares to talk out about is the deplorable - and worsening - behaviour of so-called entertainment reporters and influencers whose own unseemly antics are ignored, Thinus Ferreira has had enough.

‘Look at your ugly hair!”

“Look at your ugly shoes!”

My jaw dropped. I was attending a media prescreening of a local TV show last month when two entertainment journalists – one a fashion-forward ingénue influencer and the other a veteran newspaper critic – began hurling insults at each another in full view of the show’s cast.

Apparently triggered when one person asked the other to keep it down while on a phone call, the two fought while other journalists, publicists and TV executives looked on.

It was the type of reality TV trash the producers of shows like Real Housewives live for. And yet you won’t find that story printed in any of the publications whose journalists attended that event.

Had a celebrity been involved, you can bet that it would have been front page news in the next Sunday tabloid, and the story would have been full of delicious quotes and tawdry details of the public brouhaha.

Reporting on showbiz has always been a mostly shallow, innocuous affair covered by a motley assortment of journalists, critics and “influencers”.

Most are junior reporters, new to journalism and dispatched by news editors to cover TV and entertainment events to limit the potential harm any gaffes might cause, rather than the more serious consequences that result from mistakes made while covering politics, economics and other hard news.

top view influencer feature on mobile screen with
Photo: iStock

Then there are the ego-fuelled critics; the pandering scribes who tell the stories of the rich and famous while secretly wishing to be famous themselves. And not to be forgotten are the few run-of-the-mill journalists who do the actual heavy lifting of reporting on the event as they battle to get through the phalanx of publicists, PR agencies and celebrity egos to cover the world of showbiz honestly, accurately and fairly.

You’d be hard pressed to spot them these days, and you’d be right to think that there’s not enough critical reporting of the arts and entertainment in South African media.

Most showbiz journos seem to be more interested in whether a “swag bag” will be handed out at the end of an event (and what they can expect to find in it) than they are in actually covering entertainment news.

Dramatically compounding the problem is the influx in recent years of often uneducated and uninformed so-called social media influencers – a descriptor that includes anyone from “media commentators”, “Insta-stars” and entertainment bloggers to virtually any pseudo-famous media wannabe with a Twitter account and 18 followers.

These “influencers” are all invited and put on “the list” for media events by desperate PR companies as part of frantic plans to increase attendance and garner publicity.

Most of these folks couldn’t care less about covering the brand, launch or event to which they have been invited. They’re all in for showing off, though, seeking self(ie)-aggrandising fame through their own crafted moments and amassing more followers on their personal accounts.

Champagner Gläser
Photo: iStock

Ever noticed press briefings at TV and entertainment events with hardly any questions asked? That’s because half of what’s loosely considered the “press” have already run off to the afterparty bar. Most of those still at the press briefing don’t know what to do or what to ask, and they know nothing at all about the people they are there to write about.

Embarrassing questions range from the banal “What’s your favourite colour?” to the outright horrifying “What are we getting?”

I will never forget the time a “journalist” raised their hand – the organisers so thankful that someone was asking a question – only to motion to a table with trinkets for the press and shamelessly state: “I want that watch as a prize.”

Others try to outdo each other to see who can order the most expensive Champagne and food as the brands sponsoring the events are, of course, footing the bill.

And if they’re not racking up the bill, they’re pilfering almost anything in sight. I won’t forget the journo who filled her goodie bag with little green bottles of J&B after the press were politely asked to only take one each.

And then there are the repeated events where the open bar suddenly shuts down after the allocated tab, budgeted to last the night, runs out because of how much the media drank early on in the evening – and that’s only once the events have finally got under way after being needlessly delayed by those journos who are constantly late for everything.

Over the past few years, I’ve gone to awards shows where the journalists invited (and flown in at great expense) to cover the red carpet don’t even bother to show up.

Then there are those who don’t sit in their reserved premium seats at live events, opting instead to sit outside and fill up on the free, never-ending stream of alcohol.

And then they’re so drunk that they make asses of themselves and miss their return flights, forcing PR companies to book them new ones.

Nobody ever says anything and, with every new year, the same head-shaking tableau repeats itself.

The ugly underbelly of covering showbiz reveals just how badly the “media” behaves while covering showbiz – if they cover it at all.

And it’s getting worse. Many members of the media and “influencers” are in it for nothing other than themselves, free drinks and the opportunity to build their personal brand.

Left unchecked by their bosses and editors, and, of course, publicists, they are doing a great disservice to the public and the entertainment news establishment. It’s time for this entitled, self-aggrandising, grab-and-go behaviour to stop.

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May 19 2019