Derek Blasberg, the ubiquitous man-about-town social arbiter, covers parties for Condé Nast's Style.com. Last Friday, he wrote about a fun little shindig Yves Saint Laurent threw. Thing is, a credible source tells us he asked for $2500 from the brand.
We contacted Blasberg, and while he denies he received any payment that could be characterized as an "appearance fee," he did confirm that he did some "consulting" with Yves Saint Laurent. But he refused to discuss his "private consultancy work" with us, or what said work might entail. He did concede that he consulted on the YSL guest list with Alison Brod PR, the agency that handled the event,* and on "social media" with Yves Saint Laurent directly. A rate was mentioned. (In Blasberg's words: "I was always told that one should always discuss finances early in a conversation!")
Via email, Blasberg said that "things did not materialize as discussed, and I have received [sic] no payment to attend the YSL party"; he did not answer a direct question about whether or not he was paid a consulting fee. Update: In fact, six times in the course of our correspondence we asked Derek Blasberg if he received any "consulting" fees from Yves Saint Laurent associated with the event, and six times he dodged — "I don't discuss rates or specific details with anyone, especially in the context of making it a public matter, and I will not be elaborating further on my private business or paychecks" — until he finally decided to write us that he'd "not seen a single Euro from anyone" involved with the party, including "not as an attendant, not as a consultant!"
A spokeswoman for Alison Brod PR confirmed that the agency had approached Blasberg about consulting and had discussed his rates, but denied that Blasberg received any payment.
But when Blasberg was approached to cover a related aspect of the event, he demurred, citing concerns about it looking like pay-for-play. Why would it have the potential to look like that if Blasberg didn't collect money?
Blasberg was more equivocal. "Consultancy work is common in the fashion industry, which I'm sure you know," he wrote to us via e-mail, while aboard a flight to Los Angeles. "And it's typically confidential and a private matter between a client and the employee." Whatever transpired, Alison Brod PR says, "We do not compensate journalists for coverage." Coverage, however, is not the same as "consulting."
Blasberg is right — consulting on the side for brands that regularly end up featured on the editorial pages of fashion magazines is common in the industry. One reporter who's covered the New York fashion scene noted that beauty editors at women's magazines often are given expensive cosmetic surgical procedures and the like with the understanding that these free treatments will result in a positive mention in print (not a huge surprise there, alas). Fashion editors will direct editorial shoots for their magazines, and then sometimes turn around and take tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for consulting on the styling of top brands' — quite possibly brands featured in the aforementioned shoots — runway shows and/or ad campaigns. The cash ostensibly changes hands independent of the editor's respective publication; whether or not this influences editorial judgment is a matter for debate, but such extra-curricular activities are rarely disclosed to the reader. (We contacted Dirk Standen, editor-in-chief of Style.com to ask about Condé's policy on writers who perform such "consulting," and their position on such conflicts of interest, but have not yet heard back.)
One could argue that party reporting, wherein journalists attend schmoozy events with celebrities and fish for quotes between free glasses of champagne, exists within a subtle economy of graft. And Blasberg did cover Yves Saint Laurent's event on Style.com less than 24 hours later.
Journalism has never been a particularly well-paying field. And as the magazine economy continues to falter, and media entities in many cases find it increasingly difficult to justify high reporting expenses, the temptations of such forms of compensation will only grow — especially in the "softer" forms of journalism, like fashion writing. "Perhaps we're all targets, now," said the reporter who covers fashion. But the fact that he allegedly received $2500 from the brand that threw the party still makes Blasberg's coverage questionable.
* Disclosure: I attended the party in question, and was interviewed for Yves Saint Laurent's blog. I neither sought nor received compensation from the brand for either.