The Paparazzi Industry

The definition of "paparazzi" (plural) and "paparazzo" (singular):

A freelance photographer who doggedly pursues celebrities to take candid pictures for sale to magazines and newspapers. - American Heritage Dictionary

Paparazzi work alone or in teams and rarely for any one company. They make money by selling their photos and video of well-known people to publications around the world: The National Enquirer, The Globe, The Star, People, US Weekly, OK!, In Touch, Entertainment Tonight, The Insider, Access Hollywood, TMZ, Hollywood.TV, Splash, etc.

One photo or video clip is commonly sold repeatedly to many different publications internationally which can be very lucrative (there are over 1,200 celebrity news sites in the U.S. alone according to Hitwise). The rewards increase tremendously if the paparazzi are able to capture something unique regarding someone famous. The most unique shots of the most famous can make them millions.  But "unique" here means not just "rare" but usually something that makes the celebrity look worse: a car accident, drinking too much, tripping and falling, looking overweight, getting angry, having a bad hair day, etc. Since the payoff can be huge, paparazzi teams work 24/7 on many top celebrities hoping to strike it rich capturing that one "special" moment on film or video. One paparazzo did just that when he caught on videotape a famous actor crashing his car - he made $80,000 for eight seconds of tape. 

Knowledge of a celebrity's whereabouts is vital to the paparazzi and to acquire it they need contacts, preferably on the inside (like a friend or assistant to a celebrity). Paparazzi commonly have financial arrangements established with doormen, waiters, bar tenders, valet attendants, limo drivers, bouncers and others who are in a position to know the location of celebrities. (A good overview on how this aspect of the game works can be found HERE.)

As one can then imagine, paparazzi compete with each other to get the "best", most "unique" photos. Teams of paparazzi in SUVs will surround a celebrity driving down the street or freeway to ensure no competing paparazzi in cars can pull up and get footage. Sometimes there are 30 cars chasing a celebrity, all of them ignoring stop lights and at times driving on the wrong side of the street as they all jockey to get the best position to get a photo. Out of their cars and on foot, they push and shove while blocking walkways in shopping areas, along sidewalks and in parking lots. No one is licensed. Anyone can be a "paparazzi". It is like the gold rush or the wild West before law and order arrived.

Finally, no matter how hard they want to argue the point, paparazzi are not photo-journalists. They are not members of that old, disciplined profession that belongs to the field of journalism. A photo-journalist is just that, a journalist, who works for a legitimate news organization and takes photos of news-worthy events such as sporting events, political speeches, award shows, military conflicts, etc. They have undergone background checks and have been issued credentials. The last thing you would see one of them doing is chasing a celebrity down the street hoping to get a scandalous photo.

YESTERDAY and TODAY

In years past paparazzi would hide out in trees and bushes hoping to catch a picture of a celebrity. As the internet matured, more paparazzi entered the fray and began "hunting" celebrities. This new breed, driven by the increased value placed on celeb photos by the media, were much bolder, not hiding in bushes, but aggressively photographing celebrities as they walked down the street or went shopping.

In 2004, one newcomer to the paparazzi industry, Hollywood.tv, upped the stakes and hired paparazzi to work around the clock chasing celebrities such as Britney Spears. The owner of the company, backed by 22 investors from LA, London, Dubai and India, has stated that his goal is to make the Hollywood.tv brand worth "over a billion dollars" - value that can only be built by being the first out on the market with the most outrageous photos.  The paparazzi industry is aggressive, global and worth billions of dollars.

"CITIZEN PAPARAZZI"

But even with this recent explosion within the paparazzi ranks, the biggest change in the industry is just emerging. The paparazzi population is about to explode from hundreds or even thousands to millions. Since almost everyone today is armed with a phone able to take photos and video, the tabloid industry is trying to turn us all - tourists, club-goers, shoppers, neighbors, taxi drivers, stewardesses, nurses, gardeners, nannies, etc. - into one massive ubiquitous paparazzi mob. Media outlets are encouraging viewers to send in their celebrity photos and websites have sprung up willing to act as photo brokers.  In a recent 20/20 NEWS PIECE, US WEEKLY reported receiving 10,000-15,000 photos overnight. In the end, the media wins by getting more photos for less cost.

There is even a PAPARAZZI UNIVERSITY that teaches anyone the "skill" of being a paparazzo.  One class assignment sends 10 students led by an "instructor" out to find celebrities shopping along Rodeo Drive to then photograph.

As the "citizen paparazzi" becomes more pervasive, celebrities will have virtually no place they can be without a mob with cameras recording every moment.

THAT'S THE PRICE OF FAME

It is basic human nature that when someone is doing something they shouldn't that they surely have their actions justified and these justifications are rampant in the paparazzi industry. They are so pervasive, most people have heard them and unknowingly repeat them:

"Well, that's the price of fame."

"This celeb is of interest to our audience."

"I'm just doing my job."

"The public want it."

"The celebrities should know what they are getting into when they become famous."

"I helped make them famous - they owe me."

Similarly vacuous justifications fill court rooms every day from drug dealers, arsonists, pedophiles and not many years ago, the tobacco industry.

The brutal truth is that it is a violation of the basic human right to some sort of privacy. No one, once they put aside all their justifications, would want the same treatment to be perpetrated on their own wives or husbands, sons or daughters or even themselves.

Click here to learn of some SOLUTIONS to this pervasive problem.