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Sunday, April 09, 2006

How to play gossip


Famous people

Ever wonder how that crap got in Page Six?

Game of Gossip Is Played With Favors and Tips

By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
Published: April 9, 2006
........................
The contributors, who are believed to be paid about $300 for a day's work, all have their own sources and bring their own gossip. Not producing means not sticking around.

Then there are those like Chaunce Hayden, who contributes items from Steppin' Out, a magazine that seems to exist exclusively in Page Six. And Baird Jones, a pale 51-year-old who can be seen around the city in a Yankees cap and suit, and contributes to several New York columns, including those at the rival Daily News. Mr. Jones is inevitably described in the page as having the career title of Webster Hall art curator. Webster Hall, a concert and event space, pays him as a publicist every time its name shows up, Mr. Jones said.

As with any gossip column, there are several ways an item gets into Page Six, according to those who have worked for the column and those who work with it on behalf of clients.

To deal with the publicists who want a certain client's name in the paper, there is a simple payback system, or favor bank. After a publicist feeds a few good spicy items, often about people who are not their clients, the publicist's client might get a harmless mention, usually in the "We Hear" feature.

"When you have gossip it's a commodity you can use," said R. Couri Hay, a publicist for luxury brands and some prominent New York figures, "to buy other placements, buy immunity for your interests or to do favors for other people."

Deborah Schoeneman, a former editor of New York magazine's gossip column and who has occasionally contributed items to Page Six, said: "In all gossip reporting you have to rely on a certain stable of sources. If one of those sources has a client who has a restaurant opening, you would mention that restaurant opening happening that night because that source can later give you something else."

Incidentally, we hear that Ms. Schoeneman, who agreed to talk to this reporter about gossip journalism, has a novel coming out about the world of New York gossip reporters called "4% Famous." (See how it works?)

Keeping a list of reliable sources, of course, means having a list of people who need to be protected somewhat. Those who cooperate — called "friends of the column," according to people who work with and at Page Six — are rewarded; those who fight back are punished.

"There's finally the point where the celebrity realizes that if they just make friends with you, you won't write nasty items about them," said Ian Spiegelman, a former Page Six reporter.

In all the gossip world, Page Six included, freebies are endemic. But a favor of the kind that Mr. Stern was allegedly seeking — thousands of dollars for his assistance — is shocking to even gossip veterans.

"Never cash," Ms. Schoeneman said. "Favors. Like hotel rooms or designer handbags or free drinks, free bottle service, free meals, things that are not tolerated at other papers."

As a phenomenon, free merchandise from publicists is not rare and it is not new. Mr. Johnson, for instance, was flown to the Academy Awards last month and put up for three nights at the Four Seasons hotel, courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, according to a spokesman for the car company.

"I know that people used to be on the take in the old days, but not for money, nothing so vulgar," said Diana McLellan, who wrote "The Ear," a gossip column that appeared in The Washington Star and The Washington Post in the 1970's and 80's. "Caviar and champagne. In Washington I knew some social writer who got a case of champagne and case of caviar from an old Iranian ambassador under the shah."

Taking money in exchange for treatment is, as Ms. McLellan said, what is different here. But given the murky world in which gossip is reported, the prospect of a cash for coverage deal is not an unimaginable one.

posted by Steve @ 1:16:00 AM

1:16:00 AM

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