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A Washington Gossip Column About Washington Gossip Columns

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Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt attended a party thrown by Google and the Hollywood Reporter on the eve of the 2014 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

This Washington Post article is self-serving and shallow. But it’s written by a Politico hack, about Washington D.C. What else would we expect?

Patrick W. Gavin was a reporter at Politico from 2009 to 2014 and is currently at work on a documentary about the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.

Patrick W. Gavin writes:

It’s not been a good few years for the Washington gossip industry.

Politico, my home for five years before I left recently to pursue documentary filmmaking, once had six journalists — myself included — writing for its “Click” gossip section. All of us left over the years, and the section was disbanded in December.

“Gossip columns may be dying off, but gossip reconceived as a zero-calorie giggle nugget is alive and well.”

If Politico, whose success has been driven by its aggressive coverage of every move in Washington, has decided that there’s no more water to be squeezed from that rock, then trust me, it must be dry.

“The gossip hasn’t gone away — it’s gone mainstream.”

Look around. While long-standing columns such as The Washington Post’s “In the Loop” and The Reliable Source and U.S. News’s Washington Whispers are still around, many of their brethren are gone. The Washington Examiner folded its “Yeas & Nays” column. The Hill killed its “Washington Scene” section. Roll Call trimmed the staff of its “Heard on the Hill” column in half. The once-titillating Wonkette.com has turned away from snarky stories of Capitol Hill liaisons and toward snarky takes on actual policy. TMZ said it would start TMZDC.com in 2007; the site has yet to launch.

It has all been enough to prompt FishbowlDC — yet another gossip blog that’s struggled to feed the beast — to run a regular feature on “Why Washington D.C. Gossip Sucks.”

For the wonks in our midst, this may seem like a victory. But it’s not. The gossip hasn’t gone away — it’s gone mainstream.

Of course, what we traditionally considered gossip (who’s sleeping with whom, the blind items, the titillating innuendo) went away ages ago. And with a proliferation of news outlets, Web sites and Twitter feeds, Washington has turned into a town with more reporters than sources. In turn, it is the sources who can play hardball, not the reporters, who fear losing access and having scoops go to competitors. As a result, the sharp edges of gossip have dulled. When Emily Heil was named one of The Post’s new “Reliable Source” columnists last fall and a dinner was held in her honor at K Street’s Look Restaurant and Lounge, Heil was harangued by a cacophony of former gossip columnists telling her about how much better it was in their day.

The gossip that remains is safer, gentler and ubiquitous — because it’s been redefined as “color” or “soft news” — and can come from everywhere, including from the pens of more serious reporters. The secretary of defense whom White House staffers initially dubbed “Yoda.” The badgering, bullying political spouse. The Fox News reporter’s White House-shaped wedding cake. The chief of staff who cursed out Bo, the first dog. The congressman who is unamused when told he needs more makeup before a television hit.

Gossip columns may be dying off, but gossip reconceived as a zero-calorie giggle nugget is alive and well.

For news consumers, this means that the old categories for substantive vs. shallow news have eroded. Publications are downsizing their gossip columns simply because the best stuff is increasingly being used by “serious” reporters. If a Washington news outlet no longer has a dedicated gossip columnist, it’s because it has multiple reporters charged with churning out softer, traffic-generating items…(read more)

The Washington Post

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Patrick W. Gavin was a reporter at Politico from 2009 to 2014 and is currently at work on a documentary about the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.

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One Comment on “A Washington Gossip Column About Washington Gossip Columns”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet This Washington Post article is self-serving and shallow. But it’s written by a Politico […]


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