“No interviews inside,” p.r. agents told reporters prior to the Golden Globes’ after parties in Los Angeles. No one was to approach the stars at the Beverly Hilton, where the usual suspects — from HBO to Netflix — hosted their shindigs immediately following the award ceremony.
The red carpet, that strange dynamic where journalists stand behind ropes, or often an invisible barrier, as celebrities stop to chat — or in reality these days, pause to pose for photographs before dashing inside — is the age-old, if contrived, setting for interviews to take place outside of events. But this awards season, celebrity power dynamics and new media rules are changing the game.
With no red carpet, and no interviews allowed inside, what is a reporter to do?
“Observe,” is one suggestion. And it’s nothing new; it’s been the task of countless gossip writers through the years, from Hedda Hopper to Liz Smith, some of whom are whispered tidbits here and there from Hollywood insiders who play along (or not, as was the case for New York Times reporter Ben Widdicombe, who was forced to include a correction after he wrote that actress Rachel Brosnahan, known for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,“ “eyed but did not touch a passing tray of pigs-in-blankets” at an after party for the Golden Globes).
But what is party reporting without, well, reporting? In an environment that can easily be dismissed as vapid, the aim is to paint a picture, to capture candid exchanges and cultural moments through a piece of writing — or a photograph — which is becoming increasingly harder to do.
When there is a red carpet, while certain celebrities will stop for video interviews, less and less do they chat with print journalists. And once inside, where it’s a delicate dance navigating a party scene, sticking to “observations” doesn’t always cut it.
That is, if journalists are invited at all. Saint Laurent held a pre-Golden Globes party, hosted by creative director Anthony Vaccarello and actor Rami Malek, that was “completely closed to press,” as noted by the brand. But that didn’t stop the house from sending out a post-release and media photographs from the night, apparently suggesting that press cover anyway. “It was a private event for VIPs to celebrate the start of the Golden Globes,” a Saint Laurent representative shared when asked for comment.
There’s definitely been a shift in access and expectations with the appetite for video content, said reporter Carita Rizzo, who began covering red carpets in 2005.
“There used to be maybe five of us print outlets back then – People, U.S. Weekly, Life & Style, In Touch [Weekly], TV Guide,” she continued. “You wouldn’t necessarily get a Jennifer Aniston…but it was cool; everybody got something. Then came E! and their increased presence. We got bumped further and further down the carpet, which got longer and longer.”
Inside, it was observations only. “Maybe it was said, but it was certainly understood,” she added, though trade publications played by a different set of rules. “It’s just my impression, but those reporters would go up to anyone they wanted.”
The hierarchy now, she explained, is the “most important camera crew, any camera crew, then print.” “They’ve bumped down every print outlet regardless of who they are. Then you add every Tom, Dick and Harry with a phone for a selfie. When people got phones that took decent photos, that’s when they started limiting inside access.”
Social media has also changed the game, she said. “Once [talent] felt they could control their own narratives, they felt like they didn’t have to come to us. In the good old days, to control your message, the easiest way to do it was on the red carpet. They’d prepare a quote. It also changed how fun parties used to be when people didn’t expect to get photographed all the time. They would let loose.”
Reporter Darian Harvin, who’s been working red carpets since 2012, agreed. “No one stops anymore,” she shared at the Grammys. She contributes to The New York Times and Teen Vogue. “If an artist wants to say something, they can do it themselves. They don’t need us.”
After the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Netflix held a party that was talent-only at Sunset Tower Hotel, though again photographs following the event were shared with media. It was in keeping with the theme of the award ceremony, a night dedicated to the actors, shared a representative of the streaming service. This past weekend, Sony Music Entertainment also held a Grammy bash that was closed to press. It, too, sent press photographs from their night.
On the brand side, it’s about “controlling the message,” explained an experienced p.r. executive who requested anonymity. “The brand wants to get out specific images and on-brand photos of celebs in current collections. Also, they feel it is more intimate and private, and guests will be more comfortable if there is no press there.” (And no roving phone cameras and recorders to potentially pick up candid, inflammatory celebrity chit-chat.)
Danielle Wiley, chief executive officer of agency Sway Group, who has a 25-year career in marketing, said that “in this age where everyone is a journalist, a lot of the rules that have previously guided journalistic integrity have gone out the window. Talent — [and] we see this with online influencers as well, so it’s not limited to just TV and movie stars — has become increasingly uncomfortable with having journalists in the room now that NDAs and embargoes aren’t as iron-clad as they once were.
“We hear from talent that they are nervous about comments and images being taken out of context by the press,” she continued. “As a result, they can be reluctant to attend events. By making events talent-only, brands can insure great attendance while also getting press coverage via images sent out after the fact.”
The question is, with a message so controlled, will anyone want to read it?