One hundred days into the Obama administration, it comes as no surprise that coverage of the president and his family has not been limited to the standard news outlets.
Even before the election, celebrity magazines realized the Obamas weren’t just a politics story, but a lifestyle one as well. The covers of People, Us Weekly, Life & Style and OK! all used their most valuable real estate to introduce the first family to their readers.
But here's a surprise: After the introductions were made, those magazines kept their coverage at nearly the same pace through the 100 day mark. In 2009, a member of the first family has appeared as the main image on a total of six covers (twice on People, one time each for Us, Life & Style, In Touch and OK!). In 2008, they were on nine covers.
Do the Obamas officially qualify as celebrities because they often grace the covers of Hollywood magazines? Not if you’re following Us Weekly’s criteria and coverage methods.
“They’re not Brangelina — we’re not covering the minutia of (the Obamas') lives,” said Lara Cohen, news director for Us. “In 2008, it was about telling our readers who Michelle was, that she’s a mom who shops at Target, and doing ‘Barack, he’s just like us.’ We’re covering the big moments now. Moments like the inauguration, getting the dog.”
Coverage of first daughters Sasha and Malia has been a source of speculation and debate since before election night. Except for their first day of school, the girls have barely been in the spotlight, and that's a trend you can expect to continue.
“We decided early on that we’ll be respectful,” said Cohen. “The kids themselves aren’t celebrities, we never run any (Hollywood) kids at school (stories). That would extend to the Obama girls, too.”
Whereas much of the weeklies’ coverage is unprecedented, People magazine has been covering presidents since its founding in 1974. In some respects, the Obamas are covered in the same way the publication has covered previous administrations — when there is news value or when there is access, as with the February cover that featured the first lady.
“We had one of the very first shoots and interviews with her and we sat down in her office in the White House and that was a first,” said Betsy Gleick, People’s executive editor.
Do readers love Obamas as much as editors do?At the same time, it’s the first lady who sets People's current coverage apart from that of past years. Although Gleick says readers have always been interested in “what it’s like to be married to the man who’s president, to be living in the house,” Michelle Obama brings something different to the table.
“I just think we had eight years of a party and kind of president and a particular kind of family and there was a lot of affection and interest in Laura Bush, and Barbara Bush, but that was eight years and there’s a novelty now,” said Gleick. “It’s a whole big new package and (Michelle Obama is) particularly glamorous and sort of refreshing, outspoken and trying to shake things up in her own way.”
Still, some editors are critical of the coverage in the weeklies that don’t have a history of political content. “It feels as if sometimes the editors love (the Obamas) more than the readers,” said one editor. “They don’t always sell well when there’s not access, either.”
If the 100 days of coverage leading up to the inauguration was a long introduction to the family, and the first 100 days was about capturing a special moment in history, expect things going forward to be driven by a more classic principle. If there’s real news, and there’s an opportunity for good access, then the Obamas will be on the most valuable newsstand sales real estate out there — the cover.
“I have no idea what our pace is going to be, but if they continue to be compelling and we can offer something great to our readers, then we’ll cover them,” said Gleick.
Courtney Hazlett delivers the Scoop Monday through Friday on msnbc.com. Follow Scoop on Twitter: @ courtneyatmsnbc.