Believe the hype
Frustrated with mainstream celebrity sites, fans of black stars spread their own gossip
Angel Laws, a 22-year-old college student in Jacksonville, N.C., merely wanted to poke fun at a celebrity. For the entry titled "Guess Who: Messed Up Feet Edition" on her gossip blog, Concrete Loop , Laws posted a photo of a pair of weathered bronze feet wrapped in strappy black sandals and hinted at the person's identity by commenting, "I guess all those years on the runway take a toll on the feet." Unfortunately for Laws, the owner of those feet, the model Iman, happens to read Concrete Loop.
Iman responded to the item on her MySpace page by uploading an image of herself and her husband, rocker David Bowie, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's recent Costume Institute gala. For this event, Iman wore a white pantsuit with white shoes. In the caption, Iman wrote, "Decided to cover my feet up as Concreteloop would post how ugly my feet are."
Welcome to the raucous world of black celebrity blogs. Sites such as Media Take Out (mediatakeout.com) , Concrete Loop (concreteloop.com) , and Young , Black and Fabulous (ybf.blogspot.com) are among the 10 most searched gossip blogs among
"I decided to do it myself because they were ignoring black people," says Natasha Eubanks , 25, of Washington, D.C., who started Young , Black and Fabulous in 2005 , weeks before entering Loyola University law school in New Orleans. Before launching YB&F, Eubanks sent e-mails to the writers of sites such as Pink is the New Blog, which Eubanks occasionally links to, asking them to include more black celebrity items. She launched YB&F a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit and became more serious with it, by posting daily and even creating her own YB&F vocabulary, as her disenchantment with law school grew. It's now 10th on the Yahoo Buzz's gossip blog chart -- and it's Eubanks's full-time job.
"What people don't realize is 'Girlfriends' is the most popular show for African-Americans," says Fred Mwangaguhunga , 32, of the CW sitcom about four female friends that stars Ross. A former corporate lawyer, Mwangaguhunga last year began Media Take Out, which is second only to Perez Hilton 's gossip site, according to Yahoo Buzz. "You can look at Star magazine, In Touch, and you won't see any of the women in there."
That mentality seeps into the Internet community, he says, because "there's this idea, I think, that the mainstream has that black people don't go on the Internet, which is not true." In fact, a report released last month by Jupiter Research shows that African-Americans, who represent 11.4 percent of the Internet community, are the second largest minority online behind Latinos. African-Americans comprise almost 13 percent of the US population.
Fans of the gossip sites can savor candid photos of basketball star Carmelo Anthony cradling his newborn son or red carpet paparazzi shots that inspire bloggers to praise Ross for her fashion sense and deride her co star, Golden Brooks , for her worn appearances. Readers can peruse rumors about Usher and his fiancee, Tameka Foster, or read interviews with Ne-Yo , Fantasia , or Kelly Rowland. Concrete Loop recently offered five songs from R. Kelly 's new CD days before its release, although the accompanying post railed against Kelly's continued popularity as he faces child pornography charges.
Omar Wasow , a technology analyst for the " Today " show, believes these sites have arrived for several reasons. Blogs by Perez Hilton and others, he says, prove that a single person posting items can generate a livable income. For instance, Hilton, who gets almost 2 million unique visitors a day, reportedly makes a six-figure income. Additionally, says Wasow, black celebrities are becoming high-profile enough that they can move out of Jet magazine to a bigger marketplace. Previously, mainstream magazines rarely included at least one African-American story. In Style magazine bucked this trend in its June issue by including features on Ciara , Kerry Washington , and Aisha Tyler .
Mainstream gossip blogs are getting the message as well. In April, the team behind Jossip launched Stereohype, a blog dedicated to black news and culture. A press release clumsily called Stereohype "a first-of-its-kind blog for African-Americans."
"They brushed people the wrong way with how they came out full force," says Eubanks. She adds, referring to Jossip owner, David Hauslaib , "He knows this is a small market and you can monopolize it if you do it right."
Alicia Canady , 25, of Dorchester, visits Eubanks's blog daily. "Her comments are funny," says Canady, "and I like the pictures." Canady also visits Concrete Loop and Media Take Out, but she says the latter, which has filed a number of inaccurate items, "isn't a reliable source. . . . It's just fun." One of Media Take Out's more spectacular mistakes was a January item claiming Felicia Pearson , a star of the popular HBO series "The Wire," had been arrested for prostitution.
Still, Canady's friend, Wachmide Labranche , loves the site. She discovered Media Take Out in November and visits it every day, often multiple times.
"This might be addiction," Labranche, 26, says with an embarrassed laugh. But her interest reflects a national fascination with gossip. Labranche says that, for her, the site offers a "release from everyday life. These people are living a life that I'm not living. So it kind of takes me away."
Mwangaguhunga's entrance into this world started in early 2006, when he launched a general interest blog on African-American news and culture. He quickly noticed that gossip stories received the most interest, so he tailored his focus. Page views shot up dramatically once Mwangaguhunga introduced original content in February 2006. One recent example was a photo that allegedly showed Paris Hilton in a sexually compromising position with rapper/singer Cee-Lo . A letter from Hilton's lawyers claimed the photo was altered and threatened to file a defamation lawsuit if the photo wasn't removed. Mwangaguhunga complied, but said during a recent interview, "There's this belief that once a celebrity . . . says it's not real that people say, 'Oh no, it's not real.' With respect to that photo , I don't believe it's not real."
The controversy shows the role blogs play in the celebrity media world. "In the mainstream media there is often a sense of propriety," says Wasow. 'We don't want to offend a celebrity. We want that person to be on a cover' . . . You end up with the traditional media being co-opted to some degree by the industry they're covering. One of the things that the Internet offers is these outsider voices that can be much more critical and independent."
Laws, who began Concrete Loop in November 2005 as a solo effort, also offers original content with the help of contributors she added a year ago -- Brian Davis , 21, of Atlanta, who provides exclusive MP3s , sometimes directly from artists; and Tianna Gordon , 22, the Maryland-based photo wrangler. Laws says she was the first to receive a sexually explicit photo of Ne-Yo and his female backup dancer -- which arrived after rumors circulated that the singer/producer was gay. Laws says one of Ne-Yo's backup dancers sent the picture exclusively to her.
"People would be surprised where I get my information from," says Eubanks, who has debunked rumors of Beyoncé and Jay-Z breaking up by citing sources close to the stars. "Gossip is very smoke and mirrors. People will do anything for publicity."