Celebrity Blogs: The Impact of New Media

In the last few years, blogs have increasingly become a powerful force in new media through the Internet. Blogs are having an effect on where and how people are receiving information. Through blogs, people are able to write about topics that interest them and comment freely on what is going on in their lives and in the world around them. In the world of celebrity and entertainment, some blogs have found a niche and have become quite successful in discussing celebrity news, sharing photographs, and other topics in entertainment. Some celebrity blogs, including those published through Gawker Media, and blogs written by Trent Vanegas and Perez Hilton, are innovative and revolutionary in their approach and show the impact new media is having on more traditional mainstream media markets.

When examining blogs and how they have to come where they are today, a brief examination of their history is necessary. The term blog comes from the slightly longer term “weblog” and the term was first coined by Jorn Barger in 1997 (Pack, 2004). Once blogging creation programs, like Blogger, became more common, by the end of 2000, it was estimated that 300 new blogs were popping up each day (Pack, 2004). In the last year, blogs have become more popular and it was estimated that more than 7% of Internet users had created a blog and more than 30 million people look at them on a regular basis (Perlmutter & McDaniel, 2005). According to Technorati.com, a site that tracks blogs, the blogosphere is doubling every 5.5 months (Perlmutter & McDaniel, 2005). These are impressive figures and suggest that blogs may affect what kinds of stories news organizations may cover. In the world of entertainment television, some of these news organizations are Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, and the E! Entertainment Network.

Access Hollywood, as an example, is noticing that many younger viewers are now turning to blogs such as those by Perez Hilton and Trent Vanegas to read celebrity gossip and to see the latest photos of their favorite stars. In the past, a show like Access Hollywood often had these stories and pictures before anyone, more than typically, magazines like People. There’s been a change in the marketplace and some older media outlets see the shift as opportunities as blogs can generate buzz earlier in the day and Access Hollywood can delve into the story that evening (Lisotta, 2005). Access Hollywood actually employs a person whose sole purpose is the monitor these blogs for the show (Lisotta, 2005). However, these mainstream media outlets have had an advantage over some of these blogs in that these older media outlets have relationships with celebrities. Through these outlets, you can hear and see a person talking. On blogs, you can only read about them.

One of the blogs that I have mentioned is written by Perez Hilton. Perez’s site is http://www.perezhilton.com/. Perez was profiled by the Chicago Tribune last month. The story described how blogs about celebrities are becoming the new rage among celebrity gossip lovers (Carberry, 2005, para. 5). On his site, Hilton writes critiques about celebrities’ lifestyles and they are usually quite amusing. Unlike celebrity magazines, Hilton is able to post the most recent celebrity photos, usually taken from websites that link to paparazzi photos, within hours after they were shot. Hilton also has complete freedom in what he says about the photographs. There are no editors and for many people, this is one of the best things about blogs. They are real and they are honest. Trent Vanegas’ blog, http://trent.blogspot.com/, is one of Perez Hilton’s chief competitors, as they often have the same photographs and links to stories. Vanegas was also profiled last month, in the New York Times. His site began as a personal creative project and now draws up to 70,000 visitors on a daily basis (Olsen, 2005). By some, Vanegas is considered a revolutionary as he takes these celebrity photographs and captions words onto the photographs through Adobe Photoshop. Hilton has taken up this practice as well on his site. Through an article on http://www.bloggersblog.com, Peter Hirshberg from Technorati said that this kind of blogging is extremely hot at this moment and the public’s affinity for celebrity gossip is driving the blogosphere. When something newsworthy happens, such as a celebrity wedding or breakup, blog entries increase as well as traffic to these sites. Bloggers live for these events (Bloggers Blog, 2005, para. 2). Once I discovered these blogs about 6 months ago, I instantly became a fan. I have found myself visiting these sites on a daily basis and as a result, I am less likely to buy celebrity magazines like US Weekly or Star because I have already seen the photos and read the stories. It will be interesting to see if circulation numbers for these magazines decrease as these blogs become more popular. These entertainment television shows and magazines may have to make some adjustments if they want to keep their audiences. People may choose to read these blogs for free rather than a magazine at the supermarket.

A group of blogs that have become extremely successful over the past three years are the blogs under the Gawker Media franchise. Nick Denton is the publisher of Gawker Media, which is an independent media company with properties in nine consumer properties and fourteen websites (nickdenton.org, 2005). Denton saw potential in this area and was interested in the aggregation of websites. Gawker Media is based in New York City and draws over 38 million page views per month (Mayberry, 2005). The company is doing well financially thanks to Denton’s previous internet ventures. The writers that work for Denton make industry standard salaries and the advertising revenue for Gawker Media is also quite lucrative. (Scocca, 2005). Just last month, Gawker Media signed on with Yahoo to feature content from Gawker’s blogs on Yahoo daily. Yahoo will run 5 to 7 stories per day from Gawker’s blogs (Shields, 2005). It will offer Yahoo a chance to offer a larger variety of nontraditional media to its users (Mayberry, 2005). Gawker Media takes the blog format and applies the business model of a traditional magazine (nickdenton.org, 2005).

The Gawker blogs that are specifically geared towards entertainment and celebrity coverage are Gawker.com and Defamer.com. The New York Observer ran a story about Gawker Media and Nick Denton recently. It discussed how these two blogs, Gawker and Defamer, have filled a conceptual niche extremely well despite the fact that they’ve only been around for less than three years (Scocca, 2005). These sites run on a Monday to Friday schedule with about 12 to 24 posts a day depending on what is going on. The Gawker.com site deals specifically with New York City. It list stories about celebrities and those celebrities run the spectrum from television, to movie, to literary, and to society stars. It has an interactive component called “The Gawker Stalker” in which reader can email the editors with celebrity sightings in New York City. For example, someone may write in that they saw George Clooney buying coffee at Starbucks. This column is run several times a week. There have been some critics of Gawker, saying that the site is too harsh on people. Gawker freely posts these critical messages on the site. In a New York Times article a year ago on Gawker Media, Denton said that he believed that is humor is most important thing at Gawker. In fact, the motto of Gawker is, “try to be accurate and try to be funny” (Bosman, 2004 p. 10). Overall, I find Gawker to be usually accurate and more often than not, highly entertaining. This site provides an excellent way to get the news you want in one place. I have to say that I have been a loyal reader since I first discovered it about a year ago.
Defamer.com is based out of the other celebrity hotspot, Los Angeles. It has become a successful site with over 3 million page views in February of this year (Verini, 2005). Some believe that the reason why Defamer has become so popular is that Los Angeles has not have a home published gossip column since the 1980s (Verini, 2005). Compared to New York City which has the Daily News and the New York Post, it would seem that Los Angeles is not being served in this area. For many people in the entertainment industry, Defamer has become the preferred source of news although many are reluctant to acknowledge that the read the site. Many in the entertainment industry are afraid what the site will say about them (Oney, 2005).

Los Angeles Magazine profiled Defamer and its editor Mark Lisanti this month. Many people find Defamer to be refreshing and the author discusses how Defamer is contributing to a fundamental shift in the culture’s view of celebrity (Oney, 2005). It uses a combination of satire and technology and with the same people usually appearing on a daily or weekly basis, Defamer almost reads like a novel (Oney, 2005). Like Gawker.com, Defamer is interactive. Readers send in sightings to the Hollywood Privacy Watch, a column that is run twice a week. An example may be seeing Harrison Ford walking his dog on the beach in Malibu. Like the other sites under the Gawker Media franchise, Defamer “combines the irreverence for which the blogosphere is celebrated with some of the more conventional virtues of journalism” (Oney, 2005, para. 15). Early on in his ventures, Denton knew that the Internet was the best medium for gossip because of its speed, accessibility, and cheapness (Oney, 2005). Gawker and Defamer are compile information and present it with “maximum amounts of spin” (Oney, 2005, para. 15). The formula has obviously paid off and Defamer might have the most potential because of its location and has attracted advertisers such as Sony, Warner Brothers, and Fox (Oney, 2005).

One of the things that make Defamer and Gawker unique is that its editors are outside of the industry. They don’t speak to the people they write about and thus they have distance and can be more objective. The editors receive their information from tips from the outside, sometimes ordinary citizens, but also from those major newspapers like the Daily News and the Los Angeles Times as well as trade magazines, and other blogs. Defamer, like Gawker, is sometimes criticized for being too harsh, but Denton believes that it would be “idiotic to tone down the content or the attitude. That’s what sets us apart.” (Oney, 2005, para. 28). I would have to agree with him. The Gawker Media franchise has really set themselves ahead of the pack in a lot of ways and daring to be different and funny has really helped them gain an audience on the Internet. They’ve succeeded in innovating a new way to get news. They have found a market that is buying what they are selling. Hopefully, the relationship with Yahoo will lead more people to these sites so they can see for themselves. It has become a must read for people in the mainstream entertainment industry and as long as there are celebrities out there to talk about, I believe these sites will continue to flourish.

As was mentioned previously, accuracy is extremely important in publishing in traditional media like newspapers and new media like blogs. This is especially true when publishing stories about celebrities. A writer wants to be accurate and avoid potential lawsuits at all costs. How credible these blogs are or become depends on the journalistic standards of the bloggers (Spiers, 2005). It seems that every couple of months, there is a story about a scandal at a newspaper and it is in this atmosphere of media monopolys and distrust that these blogs are providing a key role in informing the public (Sciolia, 2003). But, in providing that information, blogs must acknowledge errors quickly and prominently and move on. I found this is true in all of the articles that I read for this paper, bloggers seek to write the truth and if they make a mistake, they are able to correct it immediately. This is an advantage that bloggers have over more traditional mainstream media outlets in which a retraction of a story may take days.

It is pretty clear that celebrity blogs have found a large and loyal audience on the Internet. It is amazing how quickly these blogs have become popular and are influencing older, traditional media outlets and markets. I think that this is important because it allows new voices to be heard and challenges the established media outlets to compete and raise their levels of coverage. The best blogs will continue to thrive as they gain a larger audience, whether it is through word of mouth, or through ventures like Yahoo’s new relationship with Gawker Media. It will be interesting to see how Perez Hilton and Trent Vanegas grow in their roles as celebrity bloggers. Both are becoming celebrities in their own right and if a lucrative offer came from an Access Hollywood or a People magazine would they abandon their blogs? Fans may think they are selling out. If they do leave, they become a part of mainstream media, something that they have mocked or avoided. Whatever happens, as long there are celebrities to talk about and people who want to read about them, there will be blogs that will provide readers with information. Thanks to these innovators, the foundation is clearly there.. In Perlmutter and McDaniel’s look at blogs, they state that “events don’t drive new media technology; the new media technology succeeds in finding ways to exploit events” (Perlmutter & McDaniel, 2005). These blogs are succeeding in exploiting celebrity events and it is entertaining to watch.

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