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Alec Baldwin Hates the Paparazzi. What Do They Think of Themselves?

The psychology of stalking stars

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

New York magazine may seem like an unusual channel for a diatribe against New York media, but that’s where Alec Baldwin chose to announce he “just can't live in New York anymore,” pinning his troubles on the city’s tabloid culture.

“I loathe and despise the media in a way I did not think possible,” writes Baldwin, whose rocky relationship with the press went even further downhill recently when a TMZ videographer accused him—falsely, he maintains—of using a homophobic slur.

“Everything I hated about L.A. I’m beginning to crave,” he goes on. “L.A. is a place where you live behind a gate, you get in a car, your interaction with the public is minimal.”

Baldwin is hardly the first celebrity to complain about prying paparazzi—and  paparazzi don’t, in general, evoke a lot of sympathy. (Chasing Baldwin out of New York would fall pretty low on the list of crimes they’ve been implicated in.) But how do the paps see themselves? For a 2011 paper in the journal Visual Communication Quarterly, Ray Murray of Oklahoma State University carried out interviews with 12 professional paparazzi in New York and L.A., all of whom had been full-time paparazzi for 10 to 20 years.

Paparazzi don’t think they’re doing anything wrong

One theme emerging from Murray’s interviews is that the paparazzi believe their relationship with celebrities is symbiotic, not parasitic. “Without the paparazzi attention, several paparazzi said, the celebrities could suddenly lose their prominence or have their careers fade….Because they say they help celebrities become famous and stay famous, several paparazzi stay the constant battle between celebrities and paparazzi befuddles them.”

For instance:

I think we’re necessary. They love to hate us, but they love us.

They know the more they’re in the magazines the more they get endorsements.…We’re actually making them more money.

Being a paparazzo is becoming more competitive

Giles Harrison, a paparazzo for 13 years, said he had several photos sell in early 2007 for $10,000 to $50,000.…In the past few years, prices have plummeted as the Los Angeles area became saturated with paparazzi…. The pressure on paparazzi to produce one-of-a-kind shots has risen and the possibility of taking such photographs has diminished greatly because of the ten-fold increase in paparazzi, who are commonly found in groups of 15 or 20.

L.A. has nearly 4 times as many paparazzi as NY

Baldwin says he expects more privacy in L.A.—but the paparazzi interviewed in Murray’s paper estimated, in 2011, that there were around 300 full-time paparazzi on the streets of L.A., compared to about 80 in New York.

Professional paparazzi may have higher ethical standards than part-timers

The paparazzi unanimously said the profession has changed dramatically in the past five years or so, with more aggressive, untrained photographers pursuing celebrities, sometimes in chases at high speeds and through red lights. This has changed the industry dramatically and caused confrontations with celebrities. No paparazzi interviewed condoned this action….Harrison said the lack of training among new paparazzi has irreparably damaged the business. He said being a paparazzo is about telling a story, not submitting only photographs, and too many paparazzi worry only about getting a photograph and not the surrounding story that makes it more valuable.