Celebrities will always be news

A few years back, when I was the sports writer here at the Times, word got out one summer that Wayne Gretzky was in the Fort Frances area.
It wasn’t a completely wild premise. The Great One was a teammate of local NHL’er Mike Allison with the Los Angeles Kings at the time so it certainly wasn’t outrageous that he might have been convinced to vacation up here in beautiful Northwestern Ontario.
So, as the sports guy, I was dutifully dispatched to stake out Rusty Myers this particular afternoon in case Wayne suddenly got off a plane.
I had first gone inside to inquire if, in fact, Mr. Gretzky was a guest of Rusty Myers and was told no. But not wanting to be taken for a chump, being the untrusting, cynical reporter-type, I waited patiently around the parking lot–in the hot sun–for a few hours just to be sure.
No Wayne.
I never did track him down. In fact, I don’t know to this day if he was even here, or it was all just a big rumour (Mike would only grin whenever I pressed him on it). But while my fruitless escapades seem a little comical in retrospect, were my efforts to get at least a picture of the Great One–if not a full-length interview–for our next edition really any different than a media horde hounding some other celebrity?
Now granted, I wasn’t about to rent a helicopter and buzz the cabin where I thought he might be. Nor was I lying in wait, hidden in the bushes, with a long telephoto lens to catch the happy vacationer off guard.
Yet there I was, eager for a picture, because if Wayne had been here, it would have been downright embarrassing had the Fort Frances Times missed “the big event.” This was Wayne Gretzky we were talking about, after all, and people wanted to see and/or read about him.
But wait a minute. Wayne wasn’t out on the ice scoring goals, or making another awesome assist. He was on vacation; a regular guy just looking for a little rest, relaxation and fishing. Was it really my place to intrude on his privacy for the sake of getting his smiling mug in the Times?
Or should I have been even more determined to “get the shot”–even if it meant spending the night, and all the next day, at Rusty Myers?
All this musing, of course, is prompted by Princess Diana’s untimely and violent death in a Paris tunnel early Sunday morning, and the nagging question whether the so-called “paparazzi” caused the accident.
This isn’t to say the photographers still being held by police should be absolved of blame. One of the first things drummed into students’ heads at j-school is that you don’t break the law to get a story (whether that involves stealing something, trespassing, or chasing someone down the road at breakneck speed).
But as someone who’s been on this side of the camera in search of a “celebrity,” blaming the media for Princess Diana’s death ignores the truth. And frankly, listening to people vent their anger at the press–the same people who rushed out to buy up all the tabloids that published pictures of her “kiss” with Dodi earlier this month–reeks of hypocrisy.
The celebrities, themselves, are just as bad. They crave the limelight when they’re celebrating a great sports victory, or out to promote a cause or new movie, then admonish it when the publicity is bad.
The trouble is, they can’t have it both ways.
The media isn’t perfect but it’s usually only giving people what they want to see or hear or read. Otherwise, they’d be out of business. The naked truth is we love celebrities, whether it’s Princess Diana with her new boyfriend, or a hockey superstar on vacation in a small town.
And celebrities will always be news as long as people continue to make their lives–and antics–newsworthy.
None of that will change, either, once the backlash over Princess Diana’s death fades away. As one panelist noted on “Sunday Report,” Prince William will be dating soon.
And the media will be there–because the people will want to see pictures of the happy couple together and read everything there is to know about her.
God save our future queen, whoever she may be out there.

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