Post Watch: Want Real Gossip? Got to Go Online

Finally the Washington Post has solved its institutional problem with juicy gossip—by dishing delicious and nasty on its Web site.

By: Harry Jaffe

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Our local “gray lady” always considered itself too serious to publish really good gossip, as in the New York Post’s Page Six, so it calls its Style-section gossip column the Reliable Source, suggesting that its items conform to the laws of serious journalism.

Enter Celebritology, a Post.com blog written by Liz Kelly about the famous and foolish.

She hates Tom Cruise and Britney Spears; she loves to write about them. She can’t control her contempt for Diane Keaton. She’s a sucker for Julia Roberts and Kate Winslet.

“Some people hate celebrity news, some love it. Everyone wants to know about it,” Kelly says. “It makes you laugh, it lightens your day. Readers say they feel okay about reading it because it’s on the Post’s Web site.”

Kelly, 36, seemed destined to become a Post gossip girl. Her grandparents worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer; her father, Lieutenant General Tom Kelly, was the Pentagon spokesman during the Gulf War. He died in 2000.

“Journalism runs in the family,” she says.

And gossip ran through her veins. She calls herself “a tabloid kid.” Growing up in the Virginia suburbs, she could barely get through a grocery checkout line without grabbing a National Enquirer or Us Weekly.

“I took an unconventional route,” she says. “I’m not a typical Post writer. I’m a Washingtonpost.com writer. I don’t have the same lineage as the people downtown.”

At Arlington’s Washington-Lee High, she sported grunge and played drums in a garage band. At Virginia Tech, she majored in English. At AOL in 1995, she developed new products in the news department. Lisa Todorovich lured her to Washingtonpost.com, where she produced chats for Carolyn Hax, Gene Weingarten, and others. She yearned to write: “When the idea for a celebrity blog came up, I made it known I was interested.”

Washingtonpost.com editor Jim Brady says he first offered the celebrity column to Style editor Deb Heard and Reliable Source writers Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger. Talks ensued. Heard says, “We couldn’t agree on a plan that made everyone happy.” Brady says there was a “mismatch” between the Reliable Source’s local focus and the national nature of celebrity gossip. “They didn’t have the bandwidth,” he says.

Begun two years ago, Celebritology has attracted a growing audience that keys in on Kelly’s morning digest and her afternoon dish, which often asks readers to vent.

“I have a clear mandate,” she says. “I don’t feel torn between two worlds as many of the Post writers are. I try to stay out of the sandbox Amy and Roxanne are in. If Tom Cruise comes to town, they get it."

If Cruise does something egregious, he gets it—in Kelly's blog.

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The current five most visited Post.com blogs, in alphabetical order:

Celebritology—gossip by Liz Kelly

On Faith—religion by Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham

Redskins Insider—Skins news by Jason La Canfora

The Fix—politics by Chris Cillizza

The Trail—campaign news by the political staff

This article can be found in the February 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.