Attorney Now Serving 'Takeout' on the Web
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And there's another next big thing to tell you about. You might not consider this as healthy for you as jumping on a bike. We'll see.
Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, is said to have had a pillow saying: If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me. Well, with the help of the Internet, that little saying has spawned an entire industry. The top 20 gossip blogs and Web sites have seen their traffic more than double in the last year, according to Hitwise. And now, the new kid on the block, Mediatakeout.com, which focuses on black celebrities and some Latinos, has hit the magic 1 million-page view mark.
Joining us to talk about the business of celebrity gossip is Fred Mwangaguhunga, the founder and editor of Mediatakeout.com.
Mr. FRED MWANGAGUHUNGA (Founder and Editor, Mediatakeout.com): Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Now I understand you made an honest living practicing law before you even got into the gossip business. What made you want to make the switch?
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: Well, I guess when you spend the money to go to law school, you feel like you have to practice law, and I did that for five years. But my heart wasn't never really into it. I knew that I was an entrepreneur by nature, and so I left the practice and started the online laundry and dry cleaning service. And after we sold that business, I figured, why not try something else, something a little bit more fun?
MARTIN: Now, you just opened the door here. From laundry the dirty laundry. Why gossip?
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: I was ready to do something that I could totally put my heart into, that I actually enjoy doing. And so I just, as a hobby, started blogging, and we got more popular and it turned into business.
MARTIN: You started blogging about celebrities?
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: Yeah. Initially, it was mostly links to stories. And every once in a while, if we'd get a story, then we'd write about it. That happened, I think, initially very rarely, and it started happening once a month and then once a week and then once a day. And now, people who go to Mediatakeout.com will see that we have three and four and five story (unintelligible).
MARTIN: But why do you care what these people do in their private life? Why do you care about their business? You know what people say, Fred? Why don't you get some business of your own?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: Well, my life isn't all that interesting. I guess, that's the short answer to it. But I think for so long, the media has created an image of celebrities that was artificial, and I think there was always this longing of the public to find out more about the celebrities, find out what they're really about. And our readers, for example, are particularly interested in seeing happy African-American families, so we love to show wives and husbands and happy, healthy relationships.
MARTIN: I'm sorry, I'm looking at the site - well, I should say, I think we should establish for those who don't know that Mediatakeout specializes in stories about African-American celebrities. And you said earlier that many of your viewers, your customers like the positive stories. But I'm looking at the site right now, and I don't see a lot of happiness on this page. I'm seeing, well, Shaquille O'Neal's marital difficulties - prominent. I see, let's see, some speculation about Jay Z's extracurriculars…
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: I mean, I think…
MARTIN: …I don't see a lot of happiness.
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: I think what we try and do is we try and give an honest, total picture of the celebrities and celebrities' lives. So, you know, if you were interested in hearing about Jay Z and his business endeavors, then you're probably better off going to other magazines or to other Web sites which are sort of there to give you Jay Z's side of things. If you're looking for what people around him are saying and some of the things that he might not be so happy to tell you, then that's when you come to Mediatakeout.com. We're going to go out there and we're going to expose the person for who they really are.
MARTIN: But you don't reveal your sources. In fact, I'm looking at a number of these stories now, and some of them I can't even read because, you know what, I'm not trying to get sued. So you talk about, you know, insiders. How do we know if these aren't people with an axe to grind? How do we know these people are really telling us the real stuff?
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: Well, I could tell you that a lot of the insiders really do have an axe to grind with the celebrities, and that's the only way that we even get people to come out and talk about it. But I can also tell you that Mediatakeout.com, I mean, we've grown to the point where we get well over a million readers a day. And when you get that much traffic, you really have a lot of eyes on you, a lot of celebrity eyes, a lot of lawyer eyes are on you. I can tell you that at least once or twice a week, we're getting a call from one of the celebrities' lawyers saying take that story down or we're going to sue you. And so we have to be prepared to take any story that we have all the way to court to be able to defend it against a lawsuit.
MARTIN: Do you pay for information?
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: We did in the past. We paid for a couple of stories, and we ran into a couple of individuals who were professional liars. At that point, because we started feeling a little bit of legal heat, we actually have, on retainer, a lie detector expert. So…
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Get out of town.
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: Oh, no, no. We do. The reason why we did that, we just realized that there are people out there that are really good at creating stories. And when you start paying for stories, you start to invite those kind of people, and we try and keep away from those. So…
MARTIN: Can I just ask a question, though? And, you know, forgive me, but you are part of the post-civil rights generation. And I understand your point about particularly African-American media sources being very traditionally dedicated to putting the best foot forward as a reaction to the feeling that mainstream media for so long was generally interested only in the most negative aspects about African-American culture - you know, crime, right?
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: Right.
MARTIN: I mean, there are still people who think that African-Americans are the poster children for all of society's dysfunction - family breakup, infidelity, promiscuity. And I wonder if you ever think about the way your information might be received by people who are not particularly friendly toward the African-American community.
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: I think initially, I had my reservations. But the more I started doing it, the more that I realized that the real problem is that African-Americans are not really seen as human beings. We're seen as sort of characters, and that's really true with the media. When you look at a star or a celebrity couple like Beyonce and Jay Z, the weekly magazines will - they won't really report on them. They'll just show pictures of them. They just say, well, look at Beyonce and Jay Z doing this, doing that.
But when they talk about other celebrity couples like Kevin Federline and Britney, they'll really go into their relationship and go in-depth. But when it comes to African-American celebrities, they really don't. What Mediatakeout.com does is we're trying to get people a more complete picture, the good and the bad.
MARTIN: So Fred, before we let you go, tell me something I don't know.
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: Well, we've learned that Diddy will be in court today, facing the first of what we understand to be many child support court appearances. And we want to exclusively let you know the name of Diddy's secret daughter.
MARTIN: Okay, that's fine. We'll just leave it at that.
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: Okay.
MARTIN: Fred Mwangaguhunga is the founder and editor of Mediatakeout.com. He joined us from our studios in New York.
Fred, a pleasure speaking with you.
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: Thank you very much.
MARTIN: We're going to check that information.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MWANGAGUHUNGA: Okay.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.