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Motivated by interest, money, bloggers offer a gossip fix

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Before having coffee on a recent summer morning, 24-year- old Kate Lanahan sussed out the full story of movie star Jude Law's affair with the nanny. At lunch, she nibbled on salad and details of Jessica Simpson's rumored divorce. As dinner approached, she scrutinized the latest photo of a very pregnant Britney Spears, and at midnight, just before turning out the light, she went online one last time: For once, all was quiet in Hollywood.

Though her days are studded with names like Tom Cruise and Lindsay Lohan, the Montgomery County native is not a high-profile publicist. She's one of a new breed of paparazzi, a celebrity gossip blogger who tracks the latest doings of the stars, often from the comfort of her Washington home.

And she earns money doing it.

Though traditional gossip rags have long been a staple of supermarket shelves, in recent months the Internet has blossomed with Web sites dedicated to tracking the stars. Though an exact count is hard to make, an online tour shows their growing popularity.

Want to know where Jennifer Garner shops for groceries? Check www.hollywoodrag.com. Wonder what Tara Reid looks like after a night on the town? Take a peek at www.celebrityscum.com. With names like Glitterati, Famed Trash and Junk Feud, blogs air juicy snippets of celebrity life such as the latest romance rumors and photos of the stars' dirty laundry.

Celebrity gossip blogs "have just exploded this summer," said Lanahan, who is a newsletter editorial assistant in Rockville by day and a gossip blogger by morning, lunch hour and night. "It seems like everyone is doing it."

Unlike conventional paparazzi, who tail celebrity entourages and dish over drinks, gossip bloggers comb the Internet to collect photos and stories from secondary sources and repackage them for their own readers. David Hauslaib, editor of the New York-based gossip blog Jossip, gets several e-mails a week from bloggers interested in starting a gossip blog. "They're realizing there's money to be made."

Blogs, short for Web logs, are online journals.

Hauslaib, who also runs a network of 25 celebrity gossip sites for Blogads, a company that offers advertisers special rates to work with the top blogs in several categories, says this may be the year of the celebrity blog. His three-month-old network earns more than $2,600 in weekly ad revenue - up $500 in the past month - and attracts 5.3 million page-views each week, according to the Web site. And in the past month, the gossip network has added more than a million weekly viewers.

Americans, it seems, can't get enough of the mundane personal details of their favorite stars.

The not-so-glamorous side of celebrity life is big news these days, says Mark Lisanti, editor of the Hollywood blog Defamer, which is part of the 13-blog network Gawker media and logs 200,000 daily visitors, according to the site's tracker. "For every one magazine in the checkout line, there's 150 blogs," he said. "It kind of fuels people's need to get more information by putting more of it in the pipeline."

'Picking up ... laundry'

"Blogs have definitely brought down the wall between the average person who works at Wal-Mart and sees these celebrities on the newsstand and the celebrities themselves," Hauslaib says. "We're no longer bombarded with who was walking the red carpet but who was picking up their laundry. ... It allows more intimate contact between the readers and celebs."

Celebrity gawking is a long, lurid and growing tradition. People magazine, which leads the celebrity magazine pack, with 3.7 million readers, has half a million more readers each week than Newsweek and 1.6 million more than U.S.News & World Report, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations data.

In Touch, a three-year-old publication that focuses on the "real" lives of celebrities, saw its readership more than double from 2003 to 2004, with subscription sales rising by 135 percent to more than 27,000. Star's subscriptions grew by 50 percent in the same period.

This year newsstands have been bombarded with new magazines that take an insider's look at celebrity life. Bauer Publishing, which owns In Touch, started Life & Style Weekly in November. The magazine, which covers celebrity fashion, shopping and lifestyles, has reached a circulation of more than 500,000, says spokesman Eric Chandler.

Inside TV, covering only television personalities, became the newest competitor in April, and OK USA, the American version of the popular British celebrity magazine OK, was started last week.

In contrast, Entertainment Weekly - which traditionally covers Hollywood's industry without delving into gossip - has begun to lose out to publications that expose the stars' secrets. At the end of 2004, that magazine's single-copy sales showed the least growth among magazines - about two-tenths of a percent - and it had lost about 1,000 subscriptions.

Blogger Jim Barteck knew an opportunity when he saw one. The Woodbine resident spends more than 60 hours a week surfing the Internet for salacious tidbits and insider scoops about celebrities.

Unlike Lanahan, he has no personal interest in the rumors and scandals. He'd rather write about politics, which is how he began blogging in 2002. About a year ago, he realized where the readers - and the dollars - were.

When he switched from blogging about politics to blogging about celebrities, the number of weekly visitors to his site, now called CelebrityPro.com, quadrupled, he says. "I get a lot of younger people who couldn't really care less about the Iraq war unless it touches them directly," said Barteck, 36. "But Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are of vital importance."

Making money

After Barteck's site attracted enough advertisers, including Amazon.com and Allstate Insurance, he quit his job as a mortgage broker and started gossiping full time. "It eventually didn't make sense for me to be working anymore because it wasn't as lucrative."

Love, not money, drew Lanahan to the gossip business. As a celebrity-obsessed youth, she always "knew things about celebrities that no one else knew." In April 2004, she started a celebrity blog - britpoppa - for fun. It wasn't long before her witty postings and juicy photos caught the eye of a larger one, The Bosh, which is based out of New York. Now she gets paid to stalk the stars from her computer, posting more than 80 tidbits a month.

"Celebrity gossip is just everywhere now," Lanahan said. "Especially with blogs, you can hardly get away from it."

Though a propensity for gossip typically motivates gossip bloggers, many are learning to cash in on their hobby. That's what Lisa Sugar, 28, wants to do with her new blog, popsugar, which has grown from 200 to 13,000 unique visitors a week since it appeared in March, according to the site. The self-described "media junkie" and Maryland native spends at least 40 hours a week researching and writing the blog on top of her full-time job as a media planner in San Francisco.

"It's pretty amazing what's important to people," she said with a chuckle. "Anything celebrity. That's what everyone wants, so it makes sense that it's translating into the online world as well."

As her site grows, Sugar hopes to find enough advertisers to make it her only source of income. That way she can spend all her time feeding her "obsession."

Peter Hirshberg, executive vice president of Technorati, a site that indexes and tracks blog activity, said the public's affinity for celebrity gossip is helping to drive the burgeoning blogosphere. "Celebrity discussion is fueling this thing as much as politics or anything else," he said. And whenever something of gossip note occurs - Tom Cruise turning Oprah's sofa into a trampoline or Mariah Carey losing her top on a German television show - the number of blog entries goes sky-high.

These are the things gossip bloggers live for.

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