With the annual Oscars bash soon upon us, everyone’s thinking about movie stars and celebrities. But did you know that the famous Walk of Fame “stars” on the sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard are applied for and paid for one year in advance to the tune of $30,000 a pop? It seems that even in this age of instant information at the drop of a smartphone, most people still think the “stars” handed out – and cemented into the sidewalk — are real ”awards”. They’re not. They are all PR events set up and paid for in advance by the studios who work with the actors (or the actors themselves).
A few years ago, I wrote a piece for a Hollywood website that was headlined “Let’s Stop Pretending Getting a Star on the Walk of Fame Is a Real Honor” in which I detailed how celebrities pay for their ”stars” on the famous Walk of Fame in Hollywood. I asked the national media to start reporting the ”paid backstory” to the Walk of Fame “awards,” since they are not really awards at all, but paid public relations events. And that’s cool. Paid public relations events have always been a part of Hollywood culture, and the Walk of Fame fits well into that picture, too.
“For more than 50 years, the Hollywood Walk of Fame has been handing out stars to stars, from Joanne Woodward in 1960 — she was the first to land one — to Charlie Chaplin and Dennis Hopper and Bill Maher and Penelope Cruz,” I reported at the time and I will say it again. “It’s a time-honored tradition, makes for great photo opps, fits nicely into marketing and PR campaigns, and it’s fun. Everyone in Hollywood knows the backstory to the Walk of Fame, how the events are part of the Hollywood tourism industry and are paid for by the studios themselves to the tune of
$30,000 per star now. The money covers sidewalk maintenance, the award event itself, media outreach and other things.”
“But while the film industry and the news media know that the stars on the Walk of Fame are part of a savvy PR enterprise, and not actual awards or honors themselves, most news outlets continue to play along with the award events and cover the day’s speeches as if it’s a big honor,” I must add. “And the news photos that go out on the wire the next day, reprinted in thousands of newspapers and blogs and websites, make it appear as if a certain star or celebrity or TV columnist actually won a new award. Isn’t it time to stop this hypocrisy on the part of the news media? Isn’t it time for the news agencies of America to report the real backstory behind the awarding of the stars each time the wire photos go worldwide, just as a truth-in-reporting service to readers and fans? It sometimes seems as if the media keeps running photos of celebrities no matter what they do, even if what they do is not so newsworthy at all. When does this news charade stop, and when does better reporting begin?”
I asked the Associated Press wire service in New York and Los Angeles if its reporters could start covering the Walk of Fame ceremonies and star awards more accurately, by at least informing readers that the sidewalk stars cost $30,000 and are paid for by the stars themselves or their studios. An AP editor lsitened to me and wrote back, noting: “You’ve made an interesting point about how the media reports the Walk of Fame ceremonies. If your facts are correct, you’re exactly right that we should add that context [that the star ceremony is a paid publicity event]. I’ll pass along to our entertainment editor.”
And in November 2011, as I was reading my daily print newspaper about Shakira recently getting her [paid] ”star” on the Walk of Fame, the very last paragraph of a very thorough news story by savvy AP reporter Edwin Tamara said: “A committee selects celebrities eligible for a Walk of Fame star and those who accept pay US$30,000 in costs and fees.”
So, it’s official: The Associated Press is now reporting all Walk of Fame unveiling stories with this note appended to all articles. AP editors in New York and Los Angeles listened to my questions. It does not diminish the public relations value of the unveiling event, nor does it diminish the celebrity’s reputation or image. It’s a win-win situation for everyone: the studios, the stars, the Walk of Fame committee, and most importantly, readers not only in North America but around the world as well.
So isn’t it time now for all news media and all media outlets, print and online, to at least print one brief sentence that characterizes the Walk of Fame events as PR and not as actual honors? In this Internet age, news travels fast. Smartphones can do a search in seconds. Google this Walk of Fame controversy and see for yourself.
When I asked the Reuters wire service for a comment about its policy of not reporting the cost of each paid star, I received a note from a Reuters spokesman who told me by email: “Reuters stands by its entertainment coverage and does not feel this disclosure is necessary as the information is available on the official website (http://www.walkoffame.com/pages/faqs) and is already in the public domain.”
So while the AP opts for full disclosure, CNN and AFP and Reuters feel full disclosure is not necessary. But one day, word is going get out. Word