NYC's Golden Gossip Era Fades

Gotham gossip loses grip, fights off rabble. Rattled tattletales tell all.

New York's most prominent broadsheets are flirting with gossip. For a few weeks in April 2006, The New York Times played in the mud with the city's tabloids, publishing stories regularly on the Jared Paul Stern fiasco. This was the Times "uncovering the seamy side of the gossip industry," wrote media critic Rachel Sklar at the Huffington Post. And yet almost to the day, the Times ended its own version of a society column, "Boldface Names," which ran in the Metro section. Some, like Sklar, wondered if the Times no longer wished to "sully its hands," though the column never even came close to being a Page Six. Which is too bad for the Times. "There's a really important need that is slam-dunk territory for [the Times]," says Choire Sicha. "It's very rough and tumble, and it's about real estate and it's about finance and City Hall politics, and it's a great place to be in."

Even more recently, the Wall Street Journal launched its Metro-style supplement, Greater New York, in April of this year, complete with another take on the gossip column. "Publicists are much more excited about the fact that there are three people out there printing [gossip]," explains the Journal's head gossip, Marshall Heyman, formerly of W magazine. "People still want to believe that it's going to be in the paper. That sort of legitimizes it somehow." But the Journal, too, worries about getting dirty, whether it's overdosing on celebrity coverage or the private lives of power players. "Their positioning, the nitty-gritty piece of New York City, is really the right aim," says Sicha, though this early on, it might feel "too diffuse." Heyman stresses the column's youth, too: "I think we'll reassess in a few months and see what's working and what's not."

The Daily News, meanwhile, is taking a new stab at gossip prominence, rebuilding its Gatecrasher brand by hiring ex–Page Six, Observer, and Vanity Fair writer Frank DiGiacomo to bring back items that resonate with a wide audience, while taking on Gotham's royalty in the process. He joins Carson Griffith (a holdover from Gatecrasher's last iteration) and the newly hired Molly Fischer, formerly of the Observer. All three receive high praise from contemporaries. Froelich calls DiGiacomo "a classic example of a really good, old-school reporter," while George Rush is quick to note that "Frank has gone a long way to necessitate the traditional values I was talking about: mixing together politics and pop culture." Like Page Six, Gatecrasher also declined to comment for this story.

Big-shot gossip: Burt Lancaster a J.J. Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success
United Artists
Big-shot gossip: Burt Lancaster a J.J. Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success
Ben Widdicombe: "It's human nature to lie in one's own self-interest. Gossip is a way that powerful people can be publicly held to account."
Ben Widdicombe: "It's human nature to lie in one's own self-interest. Gossip is a way that powerful people can be publicly held to account."

And many gossipmongers, too, still cite Page Six as an established brand worth trusting. Grove says he reads Page Six "every damn day," and Jada Yuan calls it "still the best out there." Musto calls it "still my go-to place for gossip" and adds, "I think they're doing really amazingly, considering the challenges." But Sicha notes, "I read the Observer in large part because I worked there and I care about it." When you worked in daily tabloid gossip, "of course you're going to read it forever."

Yet if Richard Johnson were to leave Page Six sooner rather than later, that could be one challenge too many. "I don't know," sighs Chris Wilson. "I can't even imagine who could fill those loafers." Froelich is more hopeful, not just for Page Six, but for powerful gossip in general: "I'm a full optimist," she says. "I don't feel like it's over. I feel like we're in a downward end of the cycle, and it will go back up. It will take someone who goes out and gets a goddamn investment to start his own fucking site. And do his own fucking reporting."

Even George Rush—after having been off the job for only a few months and playing "camp counselor" to his young son—wonders about getting back in the game at some point. "You could," he says, "if you were offering something better, if you got some people with money together. There are certainly enough people around to follow. The best stories are always about genuinely powerful people doing embarrassing sexual things, where they are jeopardizing some wealth or influence. In New York City, the cachet of good, juicy information nobody else has the moxie to print will never lose currency, even in an oversaturated market."

fkamer@villagevoice.com

jcoscarelli@villagevoice.com

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