Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Perspiring minds want to know

Can we talk?

Rodney Dangerfield's widow hopes to clone him from a hankie full of frozen sweat...The beautiful and charming Carly Fiorina and the beautiful and charming Paul Wolfowitz are on the short list to head the World Bank....Mary-Kate Olsen (sans Ashley!) is working as a go-fer for A-list celebrity fotog Annie Leibovitz...An X-rated video of Limp Bizkit rocker Fred Durst is stinking up the Net.

That's the latest gossip. But that's not Earl, brother*.

Gossip, a fertile, often febrile, variant of journalism, evidently is being forsaken in the respectable press not for considerations of taste, but because some editors feel they can't sling slime at Internet speed.

The New York Times last weekend outed the Los Angeles Times for not publishing a gossip column since 1970. (Come to think of it, the NYT doesn't have one either.)

In the NYT tattler, Dean Baquet, managing editor of the L.A. Times, forthrightly copped to the gossip gap:
"We've never been opposed to it," he said. "They're just hard to do to the standards of a paper like The L.A. Times." He cited issues of taste and accuracy, and said that with the Internet, it has become harder for newspapers to stay on top of gossip.
You could understand the decision to 86 gossip, if papers were repulsed by its occasionally unseemly content. But it is silly for them to turn their backs on this rich, reader-pleasing franchise because they think they can't compete with the saucy cyber-upstarts.

Until further notice, newspapers have a heck of a lot more circulation than most web sites. If you were going to leak a juicy item, where would you rather see it? In black and white in the L.A. Times, which sells 925,135 newspapers a day? Or on the web in Defamer, the cheeky L.A. cousin to Wonkette that averages fewer than 103,000 visitors a day? I would go for the Times.

The Times, however, can take little comfort from the fact that its reach today is nine times greater than Defamer's. Since its launch in April, 2004, Defamer has gone from zero to 2.88 million visitors in February, 2005. This impressive growth suggests there's a big hole in Dean's otherwise excellent coverage.

Is the Times going to take action? Or are they just going to take a meeting?

Inquiring minds want to know.

* "That's Earl, brother" was the famous closing line of old-school N.Y. gossip columnist Earl Wilson, who died at age 79 in 1987. He deliciously defined gossip as "hearing something you like about someone you don't."


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