NEW QUEEN OF TABLOID PUBLISHING TELLS ALL

An AdAge.com Interview With Bonnie Fuller

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The attention given to Bonnie Fuller's latest move, from Us Weekly to American Media, confirms her as the closest thing the magazine world has to a celebrity editor. But here she is, in a cramped office, working her way through a takeout penne
Photo: Chris Cassidy
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pomodoro, barely noticing as her hairdresser's blow-dryer occasionally sends paper scraps skittering across her desk, and fielding questions from a reporter. This is no glamour lunch at Michael's.

A-list editor
She's not one month past her very abrupt exit from Us Weekly, the once-flagging title she remade into a cultural touchstone of the moment and used to vault herself back onto the magazine world's A-list.

"A chance to do this isn't going to necessarily come up in two years, in three years -- it came up now," she said, dismissing any suggestion this latest move may brand her as a serial job-hopper. (It also comes with a significant upside should American Media's plans for a future initial public offering bear fruit.)

But Ms. Fuller's ambitions once encompassed running a big-name fashion title. Does she have any concerns now that the glossy world may shun her owing to her association with the messier business of tabloid publishing?

Everyone's doing it
Ms. Fuller, never one for the built-in hierarchies of the magazine world, bristled. "I don't see how you can be critical of a company with tabloids," Ms. Fuller said, "when every news outlet is doing tabloid stories."

The biggest single challenge for Ms. Fuller -- aside from transitioning to a broader role than her editor in chief perch at titles from YM to Cosmopolitan to Glamour entailed -- is competing with the world she describes to stem the sales slide at her company's tabloids. A world, it should be noted, she played no small part in perpetuating. Even after American Media's purchase of Weider Publications' fitness-and-muscle titles last year, the likes of the National Enquirer, The Star and The Globe still account for the bulk of its magazine stable.

This will require a slightly different approach than Ms. Fuller has employed in the past: How does one who takes a more commercial approach -- naysayers will say "dumbing down" -- to glossy titles work that card with tabloids, which are built on calling out to the broadest common denominator to begin with? Ms. Fuller relied on her time-tested mantra when asked about such notions, saying the trick is to "get as tuned into your reader as possible."

Focus on the 'Star'
Despite her new lofty title and a mandate to remake the edit side of American Media's kitchen-sink portfolio -- which also includes a Latino division and sundry one-off newsstand specials -- Ms. Fuller resists broad-brush big-think when discussing her new position. Her immediate priorities, she said, all concern the tabloid Star, which needs a top editor and which American Media wants to reposition as a glossy player.

After that, repositionings and/or relaunches of health/fitness titles Natural Health, Men's Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness Hers will follow. All of which should keep her well-occupied into next year. "It's very hard to project farther," Ms. Fuller said when pressed.

Already the weekly Star shows signs of Fuller-ization. The current issue sports decidedly Us Weekly-ish coverlines, such as this one about actor Ashton Kutcher, the younger consort of Demi Moore: "Ashton said bye-bye to bachelor life" and a quick sidebar titled: "Controversy: Are Brad's legs too skinny?" referring to actor Brad Pitt.

Looking for editor in chief
"Its spirit will be more upbeat, more energetic," with a tight focus on celebrities and more appeal to younger readers, said Ms. Fuller, while taking pains to note that its ultimate direction will come upon the hiring of its editor in chief. (There's no obvious contender for that slot, though David Pecker, American Media's chairman-CEO, said he'll fill the vacant slot in four to six weeks.) The title also "needs to improve its credibility," Ms. Fuller said, who felt that some stories dished scoops that ended up not happening.

A far-ranging "test" of a glossy-paged version will happen in early '04, though Mr. Pecker talked about the move to shinier pages as all but a done deal. Ms. Fuller is frantically recruiting for the title, which is in the process moving editorial headquarters to New York and well as laying groundwork to substantially increase its editorial pages.

Crowded field
Mr. Pecker's plans for the Star to storm the broad -- but rapidly crowding space -- occupied by Time Inc.'s People, Wenner Media's Us Weekly and Bauer Publishing's In Touch has met with some raised eyebrows. And additional competition could come from projects brewing at other companies, like Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's launching a U.S. version of photo title Gala, or internally, as in American Media's own early-'04 test launch of British photo title OK!

But the competition fails to faze Mr. Fuller. "It's a growth category right now," she said, and the Star "has a tremendous ability to grow" from its current 1.4 million circulation. "I don't know that I'd want to be the fourth or fifth player coming into the field right now. But we're not."

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