Google “celebrity gossip” and youâ€™ll get more than 16,000,000 results.
The top results will vary a little depending on whether you let Google store and respond to your search patterns, but Iâ€™m willing to bet that LaineyGossip.com will be listed somewhere in the top 20.
The site, launched in 2005 and run by Canadian gossip blogger Elaine (Lainey) Lui, is among hundreds that offer a daily digest of celebrity gossip.
Itâ€™s also one of the few websites â€” beyond those I use directly for work or for personal tasks like banking â€” that I visit nearly every day.
Wow, this post is popular! You might want to check out this follow-up exploring LaineyGossip’s subsequent web re-design, her expanded writing room and other marketing partnerships Lui launched after I wrote this post.
Am I a gossip hound? Not particularly. I don’t visit other gossip sites or purchase magazines. Mostly, I enjoy Lui’s take on celebrity life and her writing style.
In the four years that Iâ€™ve followed Luiâ€™s site, I have become more selective about which types of stories I will click through to read, but my overall interest in the blog hasnâ€™t waned.
Lainey Gossip is an exceptionally well-structured blog that knows exactly who its audience is, what they want and how to deliver celebrity news in an entertaining way that distinguishes the site from its competitors.
Here are five crucial elements to the siteâ€™s success:
- Be the face of judgment
- Own what you are
- Set limits
- Embrace controversy
- Selectively offer personal details (assuming you aren’t writing a personal blog)
1. Be the face of judgment
Our culture is sycophantic. Watch an arts and entertainment segment on the evening news and youâ€™ll see something closer to an infomercial than artistic analysis. With a few notable exceptions, entertainment journalists have become today’s Yes Men.
Lui is blunt about whether a movie or script idea is crap. She frequently talks about the relationship between profits and efforts by film and television studios to cater to the lowest common denominator through their programming. Her willingness to make entertaining judgments is part of what makes her an interesting writer.
- The Hollywood Foreign Press association released its list of Golden Globe nominations to recognize the past year of film and television in December 2010; Lui speculated the list was driven more by the need to stars walk the red carpet than an attempt to recognize quality.
- When the MPAA gave Blue Valentine an NC-17 rating (effectively promising box office death for the small-budget film), she noted the hypocrisy of restricting a film that explores the murky depths of an adult relationship without gratuitous sex or violence, particularly when compared to the action and/or torture films that routinely receive PG-13 or R ratings.
- She criticizes the popularity of reality television stars (e.g., Jersey Shore) but notes that Snooki and her ilk exist because people support them by watching their shows.
Do I agree with her judgments?
Not always, although I appreciate the care she takes to acknowledge her opinions and invite discussion (and dissent) from her readers.
But, since the site offers no official forums or comment sections, Luiâ€™s readers depend on her selective reporting of the feedback she receives via email. It occasionally appears in her daily overview posts, but leaves the discussion very one-sided.
On the other hand, the commenting drama that played out across some of the Luiâ€™s unofficial Facebook fan pages a few years ago suggests that a one-way dialogue isnâ€™t necessarily a bad thing when gossip is your primary subject. That site appears to be unavailable now; Iâ€™m not sure if this page is legit. Luiâ€™s only genuine foray into the no-holds barred discussion of social media appears to be via her Twitter account. Iâ€™m curious about whether that will change.
2. Own what you are
Personal bias might is the bane of good journalism, but itâ€™s what separates good blogging from bad. Luiâ€™s Gossip Guide turns what could be a polarizing liability â€” her personal biases about celebrities â€” into a road map for her site.
That doesnâ€™t mean her coverage of openly-acknowledged favourites like Gwyneth Paltrow is always fawning. Like all of us, Lui has expectations for how her favourites should act. She bluntly documents how these people meet or fail to meet her expectations when she interviews them at junkets or on red carpets.
I find it fascinating that while Lui regularly covers prominent award shows like the Oscars, she has apparently done her damnedest to protect her fantasy relationship with Paltrow by avoiding the woman in real life. Given her experiences meeting swimmer Michael Phelps and actor Marion Cotillard, her strategy is likely wise.
By documenting her intentionally one-sided relationships with â€œMy Gâ€ and others, Lui explores the strange push-pull between celebrities and their fans and the increasingly complex rules of supply and demand in the entertainment world.
3. Set limits
Unlike Perez Hilton or TMZ, Lui doesnâ€™t cover anything she deems sad smut:
You have a line, I have a line. As ludicrous as it may sound coming from a dirty gossip â€” for me, there is fun smut and there is not so fun smut.
Fun smut is hoping for Paris Hilton to go to prison and calling Heather Mills a golddigging skank.
Not fun smut is death, suicide, overdose, murder allegations, scrapping over DNA, and alleged child molestation.
Sheâ€™s put her money where her mouth is:
- When Heath Ledger died in 2008, Lui made one general note on his passing; subsequent posts ignored the morbid speculation and focused on how his death would affect The Dark Knightâ€™s Oscar push and other film projects.
- When Michael Jackson died in 2009, Lui wrote briefly about her personal response to his death; subsequent posts examined how other celebrities positively and negatively used the King of Popâ€™s passing for their own purposes.
Some might find this decision to feed on some celebrity fortunes and not others hypocritical; I respect the lines Lui has drawn. It likely costs her traffic compared to her peer sites, but I suspect thereâ€™s an element of pragmatism here.
Given the small size of her team, it could be difficult to directly compete with large outfits like TMZ that pride themselves on breaking the latest details or industry-insiders like Nikki Finke.
In a way, Lui’s selectively creates a distinctive niche. I often find myself looking for her commentary on breaking events and what she has to say becomes more interesting because of its brevity.
4. Embrace controversy
Lui is no stranger to controversial opinions and few have been as interesting as those sheâ€™s offered surrounding the Twilight franchise.
Sheâ€™s reviewed the books and movies; since the films have largely been shot near her hometown of Vancouver, sheâ€™s become a significant source of gossip from the set.
Of more interest to me is Luiâ€™s willingness to discuss the power wielded by the franchiseâ€™s superfans (she calls them Twihards). She mocks Stefanie Meyerâ€™s opinions, was skeptical about the real-life romance of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart (who, if you live under a rock, play the filmâ€™s leads) and generally takes a perverse pleasure in lampooning the all-consuming desires of the franchise’s fans and their inability to subject their crush objects to any type of substantive criticism.
While she continues to post stories about the franchise (I’d like to know what kind of traffic they pull in), some of the email she has receives from self-proclaimed fans demonstrates how no-holds the Internet can really be.
Beyond name-calling and attacks on her personal life, the more disturbing examples demonstrate the prevalence of racism.
To her credit, Lui hasnâ€™t backed down. She also posts more level-headed responses from the Twihard audience.
I admire her willingness to engage her attackers, expose malicious behaviour in an entertaining way and provide insight into the underbelly of a cultural phenomenon that continues to be one of Hollywoodâ€™s most significant cash cows.
5. Selectively offer personal details
Luiâ€™s mother, husband and friends are frequent fringe players in her writing, particularly in the daily overview that kicks off her column each day.
Beyond her relationship with her mother, extensive superstitions, and belief in the need for booty-call books, Lui has written about her personal origin story, her decision to not have children, and what it meant to her Chinese-born parents to watch her participate in the Olympic Torch relay.
The latter examples â€” which Lui only offers up occasionally and often in connection to a sponsored marketing campaign on the site or a specific event like the Olympics â€” increase my interest in her as a person precisely because they are engaging, selective and on target.
If her site were to devolve into a personal blog, Iâ€™d likely be the first to move on, but these tidbits flesh out the gossip persona sheâ€™s created.
As Lui herself says of power couples like Brangelina or the Beckhams, I recognize the self-interest inherent in these details and the way she offers them to her audience, but for now Iâ€™m buying what sheâ€™s selling.
Over the past year, Lui has introduced new contributors in an effort to grow the site’s offerings and expand her content generation team. While I only follow stories by Sarah from Cinesnark, Iâ€™m intrigued by Luiâ€™s attempts to grow her business and curious to see what she tries next.
Itâ€™s fair to say that Luiâ€™s a significant force in the online gossip world, particularly in Canada.
eTalk, CTVâ€™s Canadian-focused celebrity gossip news magazine, was among the first to snap Lui up as a regular contributor. (More recently, the Globe and Mail â€” a CTV affiliate â€” has come calling.)
The digest she presents on TV is watered down compared to that offered on her site (perhaps due to CTVâ€™s need to maintain good relations with the multinational corporations bankrolling the products it helps to promote).
While some might argue Lui has sold out by allying herself to a mainstream outlet, I havenâ€™t noticed a significant change in the content on her site. Both mediums are what they are â€” partnering with eTalk and working within its limitations has allowed her to grow her market share into a new medium and (presumably) reach a wider audience.
On a side note, it canâ€™t easy to interview someone whom youâ€™ve maligned online regardless of whether or not the person is aware of what youâ€™ve said about them. Sure, Lui gets paid to do both, but you need a thick skin to straddle both worlds without changing your core product in significant ways.
It also takes guts to turn writing into an entrepreneurial opportunity. Leaving a steady job (not once but twice) to start something new is exactly the kind of risk-taking behaviour that Canadian business magazines and newspapers continually bemoan as lacking in our national character. Lui is a good example for those seeking to foster a national culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
And if every entertainment commentator was equally frank, North American culture would be a lot more interesting.