Thanks to an apparent quirk in People magazine's online content management system, American supermarkets' classiest tabloid accidentally published an obituary for Kirk Douglas last night on their homepage—and long enough for plenty of people to notice.
That the magazine already had an obituary of Douglas ready to publish is not out of the ordinary. It's a standard industry practice; I wrote Joan Rivers' obituary post for Gawker days before the comedian actually died. It only makes sense to be prepared for aging or ailing celebs to die, or for other news that seems inevitable or likely to happen soon (see: the grand jury decision whether to indict Darren Wilson).
But unlike People, most outlets don't put their pre-written coverage where the public can read it. While Douglas' obit was still up last night, Twitter users discovered it was possible to explore the Time Inc. server and find a wealth of other precog coverage of celebrity news—shell posts for the news items the magazine believes will (or once believed would) happen, sitting on the internet for your consideration.
But everybody has to die sometime. Where People's "DO NOT PUBLISH" files really shine is in other predictive celebrity coverage. The magazine was so sure Johnny Depp would finally marry his longtime girlfriend Vanessa Paradis that it filled out a wedding piece in 2007. (The couple split in 2012 without ever tying the knot; Depp is now engaged to actress Amber Heard.)
Here is hypothetical gossip journalism in its highest form—including not just speculative events, but predictive sourcing: "TK REP STATEMENT," People reports, getting the thing that has not yet happened straight from the people best equipped to not yet comment on it.
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