An honest mistake in a changing celebrity news landscape

This Q&A with John Mayer by New York Magazine’s pop culture “Vulture” was pretty dang funny, to say the least.  I only happened upon it after one of my Twitter followers sent out a tweet that Mayer had threatened to sodomize female journalists.  As both a fan of Mayer and as a radio professional who has played his records since the beginning, I had to click on the link in her tweet.  As I started to read the Q&A with Mayer, I began to realize the joke, but my Twitter friend hadn’t and instead was upset with Mayer.  She had taken his words literally when he said, “I’m going to forcefully sodomize your editor.”

Here’s what might have happened.

An editor gave her writer questions to ask Mayer that were absurd.  But how absurd are they really?  In an age when what we post online is driven by page views and how much audience we can gain, the NY editor didn’t really make a mistake here.  The Q&A has me blogging about it and, earlier in the week, my twitter pal was up in arms about it.  So that’s two people driving traffic to the NY Mag site.

It seems to me like the editor thought she may get Mayer to say something controversial and newsworthy about Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The questions asked seemed like attempts to snag something newsworthy to drive traffic to the site by asking serious questions.  We see TMZ.com do it all the time in their videos.  But the plan doesn’t always work when you ask a celeb a question like this.  Usually, they have no opinion or nothing newsworthy to say.

C’mon, editors, like you’re really going to get well-coached stars to say something to give you a hot story?  Mayer would rather say something smart ass about sodomizing you than take a Nobel question seriously.  He’s got a record to promote, so he’s not going to say anything to piss off his red state or blue state fans.  To me, this just seemed like an attempt to compete with TMZ gone wrong.

We’ve hit the saturation point with celebrity news and gossip.  How are we going to do it differently?

By not falling victims to trends or by copying what everyone else is doing.  But there’s also one vital thing to do.  If you’re going to cover celebrity news for a living, it doesn’t stop  when your 40 hours a week are up in the newsroom.  You don’t walk up to Mayer and ask him dumb questions like he’s a stranger you have no respect for.  Do your research.  And when I say “research,” Google doesn’t count.

You have to live this stuff.

You lifestyle has to be celebrity/entertainment news 24/7/365.  You can’t miss a thing.  Mayer fans know he’s a smart ass with dry, sarcastic, rude humor.  The fans also know he loves to liberally dish out his unique humor to journalists.  The editor and her writer would have known this if they’d been fans, or had at least watched Mayer on some TMZ videos verbally sparring with paparazzi and journalists.  The guy’s current single is about, “who says I can’t?”  Well, what do you think you’re going to get when you hit him up with your tape recorder at a party or on a red carpet?  Who says I can’t smart-ass this journalist chick who didn’t do her homework on me?

I’ve got clients to serve who want news on Mayer’s new album.  I’m not going to waste 2 minutes with him by asking him lame questions.  Tell me about “Battle Studies.”  (She did at least ask about that after asking a bunch of questions that annoyed him.  Way to go to build rapport…)

You never know where a conversation will go anyway.

I talked to Mike Kennerty of the All-American Rejects last week about how the band was getting back on the road after Tyson Ritter had emergency knee surgery.  Somehow we got to talking about a few different subjects, which was really cool and unexpected.  It wasn’t an exclusive; a lot of us got to do press over the phone with members of the band.  So we all had the story about them going back on tour.  But I know I got a couple of other tidbits out of him that will be exclusive to my Westwood One clients only.

I get what I get from people by doing my own thing and not trying to be like everyone else out there.  I treat artists with respect.  In Kennerty’s case, he was calling from London on a day off.  How would you like a bunch of strangers asking you questions for a few hours on end on your “day off?”  Exactly.  This is why you get so much more as a journalist just by being cool with people.

Anyone can put up a blog and start trying to compete with TMZ or Perez Hilton or whomever in online celebrity news and gossip you idolize.  Some of us were doing celeb news before it grew to what is currently is online, which is a massive echo-chamber.  I did it in radio first and I still do it for radio.

How do you do entertainment news today and stand out from the crowd?  How do you not fall victim to the echo chamber trap?  How can you do music news and still compete with countless blogs all writing about the same thing at the same time?  Should we even call it “news” any more?

Disclosure: I am a “New York” magazine subscriber and long-time fan of the online site.  Opinions expressed on this blog do not reflect that of any of my various employers.  I have also bought every John Mayer album I’ve ever had.

I am looking for freelance writing gigs as I re-brand myself

I am on a furlough day today.  After catching up on “The Office” and “Community” on Hulu.com this morning, my attention naturally drifted towards searching the Internet for freelance writing gigs.  As a full-time entertainment news writer suffering a severe pay cut, I feel the need to support my writing habit with…more writing jobs.

So I begin a serious search for gigs once again for the first time in nearly two years.  I honestly don’t remember where I found the good gigs before.  Some quick searches today showed me that ads online for gigs haven’t changed much in two years.  I used to apply for any and every appealing gig I saw–and took every single one I was offered.  I had to; freelancing was my primary income.  I would like my freelance income to supplement my main income today, as I do have a full-time job and therefore not as much time to freelance.

Branding

The other thing I want to accomplish with freelancing now that I didn’t think about before is personal branding.  Each gig I take now is an opportunity to increase my personal brand.  I can write about anything.  Freelance writers are generalists and being able to write about any and every subject assigned to you is survival.  But there are a few things I am really good at like music news, entertainment news, podcasting, being a radio personality, writing for the web, national news, and anything pop culture.  Actually, increasing my pop culture brand is the best thing I can do right now.

My Brand: Pop Culture

I think that’s a good goal above all else: increase my brand as a pop culture writer/content provider. Because I can create pop culture content for the web, print, and broadcast.  I hope you’ll join me as I blog about my career recreation right now.  Is it a recreation?  A makeover?  A re-branding?  I am not sure which word applies best to what I am trying to do.  I guess we’ll see as time goes on how this evolves…