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SARAH HAMPSON: THE INTERVIEW

Bonnie Fuller: Click to the Tabloid Queen's new domain Add to ...

"They put the wrong headline on the story," snaps Bonnie Fuller, interrupting herself in the midst of an explanation about her new venture, Hollywoodlife.com, a frothy, pink, celebrity-and-fashion webzine that the legendary Canadian-born editor launched at the end of November.

While talking, she has been keeping an eye on a laptop screen displaying the website. Three side-by-side pictures of Taylor Swift, the young country singer, appear with a large headline that reads: "You Make Plaid Look Good."

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"I'll be right back," says Ms. Fuller, 53, as she leaps out of her chair to speak to the editorial team, composed of young women seated in cubicles outside her door.

"I don't know where they got that," she huffs, shaking her head, when she bustles back into her Manhattan office. "It's supposed to say 'Taylor Swift. New plaid, three days, three ways,' 'cause it's three different days and she wore it three different ways," she explains.

"And the headline's supposed to be in yellow 'cause it will pop more."

The offices for Hollywoodlife.com reflect its start-up status. They are spare. There's no signage on the door. No receptionist. Many of the employees are interns. So far, ad sales have been very encouraging, Ms. Fuller says. "Sold out in the first few months," she boasts.

The challenge delights her. "Creativity fuels my energy," she explains, adding that she catches the 5:30 a.m. train from her home in suburban Westchester, N.Y., goes to her workout and arrives at the office at about 8. She tries to get home before 9 p.m.

Her appearance reflects her focus on work: Wearing conservative clothes, she also has on black boots, the zippers on which she can't do up. They flop open when she walks. She likes them and figures that the leather will stretch during the day.

The low-budget online enterprise is a far cry from the glitzy offices Ms. Fuller once ruled as editor of some of the leading American women's magazines, YM, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Glamour. In the nineties, she was unstoppable as she steadily rose from her Toronto beginnings as a fashion reporter at the Toronto Star and later as editor of Flare magazine.

Toward the end of that decade, when she took over Cosmopolitan from the inimitable Helen Gurley Brown, she was expressing ambitions to be editor of Vogue, perhaps. In fact, it was rumoured that she was fired in 2001 from Glamour, a Condé Nast publication, because she was entertaining an offer to helm Harper's Bazaar, a Hearst magazine, shortly after starting her new job.

Her relentless ambition had burned the bridges it had built - in that high-powered, glitzy world, at least.

Undeterred, the mother of four, who never took extensive maternity leave, turned to celebrity magazines - a significant step down the glamour chain in the snooty Manhattan media world. But just as she had done with every other media property she touched, Ms. Fuller, who has twice been named Editor of the Year by Ad Age, helped make substantial increases in advertising and readership.

First she turned Us Magazine into Us Weekly, helping to boost - some say create - celebrity culture. Then she went to American Media, where she oversaw several titles including the gossip magazine Star. She had reinvented herself as the Tab Queen.

In 2008, she quit - she wasn't fired, she says, as was widely rumoured - to start up Bonnie Fuller Media, "an online digital company for women."

To develop her platform while she talked to investors, she blogged and wrote free columns for the Huffington Post. "I was doing it for the experience. It was fun!" Many female readers were migrating online, and she wanted to follow them, she says.

But when the recession took the air out of her media-empire dream, she decided to partner with Jay Penske, chairman of Mail.com, who had yet to develop Hollywoodlife.com.

"People are born with a gossip gene," she says gaily. "It's in our DNA. We are nosy. We are curious creatures. And I think why the obsession has grown even more is that we are all only one step away from being a reality star. Any of us could be a reality star, so any of us could be a celebrity. It's really the American dream."

Ms. Fuller rarely questions what the female audience wants. Nor is she inclined to judge the nature of its obsessions. The webzine, aimed at women aged 18 to 35, speaks to its readers in the voice of a spoiled, 13-year-old, gum-snapping brat. In one of her editor's notes, which she writes along with her own frenzied Twitter updates, Ms. Fuller exclaimed that Carrie Underwood was a "Big Biatch" for an exchange with Ms. Swift.

She is not an arbiter of taste, like Vogue's Anna Wintour. Rather, she eliminates the editor's filter of preferences and simply reflects her readers' minds, however giddy or shameless they may be. As long as her readers want it, she considers it good.

"Women see celebrities as mirrors of their own lives, so when they're looking at celebrities, in many cases, not all, they are evaluating the situation and relating it to something in their own lives or comparing it. It enhances your life," she concludes brightly. "It's helping women. Of course it's healthy."

If the Bonnie-watchers (and there are many, still) snickered about her down-market incarnation, she chose to embrace her average-gal appearance and mentality.

"I'd call my on-the-way-to-work look more Ellis Island than Fifth Avenue," she wrote in her 2006 book, The Joys of Much Too Much . She doesn't have time for criticism. "It's never nice, that sort of thing," she says about nasty stories of her workaholic ways. "But I think that you can't let that hold you back from living your life and from moving forward and doing what you think is the right thing to do.

"I'm just not satisfied sitting and doing the same thing every single day, day in day out, month in, month out, year in, year out, and there's only so many ways you can write a sex story, only so many ways to write a relationship story at a monthly magazine," she asserts when asked to explain her tendency to move on from an employer after an average of four years.

"I'm always looking for new ways of presenting information and engaging with an audience, and if you look at my career, I've redesigned, reconceived, relaunched. That's the way I was made. I can't help it," she says, laughing.

She has reason to be pleased with herself. As mastheads at the old-school magazine publishing companies fold, many editors are out on the street in their Manolos.

"I look at this as the future and my future," Ms. Fuller says of her digital magazine. "It will grow." She offers a winning smile. "And I personally wouldn't want to be taking three months to put a product out now."

Ah, yes. Ms. Fuller may have the last snicker.

 

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