The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

They say you can't polish a turd, but Florida's own American Media Inc. is sure trying. The company is giving its Star magazine a glossy transformation, from the newsprint tabloid format it's had for 30 years to that of a slick magazine.

It's funny. Earlier today, I took notice of the latest issue of the Star--the one described in the AP article, with a fat Kirstie Alley on the cover--while in the checkout lane at the supermarket. I don't know why my eyes lingered on that cover; I usually never do more than a quick glance of those titles.

The change in format is the brainchild of editor Bonnie Fuller, who's established a track record as a miracleworker for magazine title rejuvination. The article does a wonderful job of detailing her accomplishments, along with her professional vibe:

"I hate to use the word greatest. She's certainly the most commercially successful editor of our time," said media columnist Simon Dumenco of Folio, which covers the magazine industry. "But a lot of what she does is not journalism - it's entertainment, first and foremost. Trend pieces, quizzes about sex, pictures of stars."

"She has distinguished herself, if that's the word you want to use, by being pretty vulgar," Dumenco said. "She has an uncanny finger on the pulse of what the culture can take in terms of vulgarity."...

Fuller's track record suggests Star's numbers will jump like an agent when the phone rings.

The 47-year-old Canadian, a married mother of four, got her first high-profile editing job at YM, where she nearly doubled circulation in five years. Then she launched the U.S. edition of Marie Claire, which was a quick success.

Next stop: Cosmopolitan, where she replaced the legendary Helen Gurley Brown and boosted newsstand sales 8 percent. She abruptly left for Glamour, where she replaced another legend, Ruth Whitney, and experienced her only failure. Newsstand sales declined while Fuller chased other jobs, and her contract was not renewed.

When Fuller saw an opening at Jann Wenner's money-losing US Weekly, she seized the job and shocked the industry, raising circulation an astonishing 55 percent and putting the magazine in the black. She also cemented her reputation as a brutal taskmaster, enforcing horrific hours on her staff in search of the perfect cover line.

After a whirlwind 16 months that took US Weekly from shot to hot, Fuller bolted to AMI as editorial director of all the company's magazines for an outrageous pay package including a $1.5 million salary, $1.5 million equity stake, circulation incentives up to $900,000 a year, plus perks like car service and health club expenses.

Vicious Attack! Suddenly Fuller was the hunted, not the hunter.

Gossip items from disgruntled employees started turning up. An "isurvivedbonnie" message board was born. The killer was a devastating Vanity Fair profile in which an unnamed (the irony!) "former editorial assistant" claimed that after Fuller ordered a free dinner to be packed up and sent home by company car for her and her husband, the meal was befouled with various body parts and fluids.