"We're trying to get the shots before they go into rehab," said Brandy Navarre, who runs the powerful paparazzi agency X17 with her husband, Regis.
What's more, they believe they're the model for future news coverage on all kinds of subjects. "It's already happening," Mr. Navarre said. "We tried to get Obama in the Virgin Islands with no shirt."
And they believe it's even all to the good. Mr. Navarre suggested that a pack of paparazzi may have been able to prevent John Lennon's murder in 1980; Ms. Navarre said photos of partying starlets have sometimes spurred their families to get professional help.
The pair spoke during a panel on celebrity news convened today by The Atlantic magazine, which recently surprised its rather intellectual readers with a cover story on "The Britney Show." The magazine has tried to expand its influence and begin turning a profit; to that end, it has just poached Wired publisher Jay Lauf from Conde Nast to become VP-publisher.
AdAge decided against trying for a shirtless photo of Mr. Lauf, but it's hard to deny that the general news media increasingly reflect the tactics and values of gossipy celebrity coverage.
Responding to demand
"It's defining deviancy down," said Richard Johnson, editor of The New York Post's Page Six. Its attempt at a stand-alone website for Page Six failed this week because it joined the online game too late, he added, not because of any drop in demand for celebrity gossip. Demand is definitely still growing, he said. "It's the Page Six-ification of America."
It's also a reaction, even a reasonable countermeasure, to stars' careful packaging, panelists argued. "We don't have to send 500 faxes and deal with a publicist," Ms. Navarre said. "We just go out there and do it."
But Bonnie Fuller, editorial director of American Media and former editor of Us Weekly, probably described the appeal of the approach most directly. "It's invigorating," she said.