Media panel shares views on Hilton, Spears


NEW YORK - "Before Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, newspapers gave us gangsters and bimbos," said Don Hewitt, creator of "60 Minutes" at a luncheon panel on Thursday. "There's nothing new about it, there always has been and there always will be an appetite for celebrity journalism."

Hewitt's comment came as part of a panel hosted by USA Today at the Mandarin Oriental here as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations.

The question posed to the panelists was whether or not celebrity journalism, or "trivia," is replacing substantial and serious news.

In addition to Hewitt, panelists included USA Today's founder Al Neuharth, former president and CEO of the Associated Press Louis Boccardi and John Seigenthaler, founder of Vanderbilt University's First Amendment Center. USA Today's entertainment reporter Ann Oldenburg moderated the event to get the panelists' take on celebrity news.

Not all of the panelist's shared Hewitt's viewpoint on the current reliance on celebrity news to reach younger demographics. "I wish it would stop but I don't know it ever will," Seigenthaler said after pointing out that the first newspaper in the U.S. appeared in 1690 and one of its leading stories was on the affair between the King of France and his daughter-in-law.

"What we're really talking about is what the consumer is interested in. Calling it 'trivia' is a misnomer. We should try not to categorize news," stated Neuharth after fielding a question about using the death of Princess Grace as a cover story for the first edition of USA Today.

When asked by an audience member if they felt that the amount of celebrity news coverage was a disservice to their readers, Boccardi retorted: "Editors have always debated between 'give them what they want' and 'give them what they need.'"