Anne Schroeder began her career as an intern at CNN, followed by stints as "Names and Faces" columnist for The Washington Post and executive editor of Capital File magazine.
She currently writes the "Shenanigans" column for the new print and Internet title The Politico. She dished to PRWeek on life as a DC gossip columnist.
PRWeek: Gossip columnists seem like quintessential reporters. What they do may seem like light news, but then it can cut to the heart of social or political issues.
Schroeder: I like the way you think! I can make the argument for both sides. On one hand, in Washington, if it's a huge scandal, it's not gossip -- it's front page news. [What then appears in the gossip column] seems watered down. On the other hand, one of my friends at the Washington Post, Annie Groer, who used to write ‘Reliable Sources,' once told me: ‘What you're trying to do as a DC gossip columnist is poke holes into people who are being hypocritical and call them out on their hypocrisies.' So in that sense it's admirable.
PRWeek: Do you associate with other columnists? Are you rivals?
Anne Schroeder: DC gossip columnists all pretty much get along. There's this unspoken - or spoken - respect for everyone. There are certainly people who don't get along, but at the end of the day, if [someone else] has a good "get," I'm like, "Way to go, guys. That was a great piece." You don't hold that against them; you hold that against the source.
PRWeek: To get news, are you on the phone constantly? At events? Hanging out at parties?
Schroeder: There's not one thing; it really is everything. You're on the phone, reading the paper, out at parties, out to lunch.
If I'm on deadline, which I am all the time, I don't necessarily have time to be out and about. I'm constantly calling people to find out what happened, but then when I am out and about, that certainly is better.
PRWeek: Whom do you call? Press secretaries?
Schroeder: I certainly talk to press secretaries for on-the-record statements, but they're not that good about dishing because their job is to protect or deflect.
So you really just talk to a whole plethora of different [people] - from various Hill staffers to cab drivers to reporters. That's the great thing about gossip. It does not discriminate; everyone has a little piece of information.
PRWeek: Are there various online sources you increasingly compete with?
Schroeder: When I was at the Post, Wonkette was really huge. They would have something they put up right away that the 'Reliable Source' would have in the paper the next day. That became frustrating to me in terms of paper vs. Internet, the lag time.
PRWeek: But now you can just post things right away.
Schroeder: If something really fabulous happens and the paper's already gone to bed, I can post it as soon as possible on the Web. Then it becomes a fight: Do I save that for the paper, or do I put it on the Internet?
PRWeek: Are PR people at trade associations or companies helpful?
Schroeder: It really depends on why you're calling. Obviously, if you're asking for comment on a negative item, they're not going to be as helpful. They might give you a "no comment" or "no, it didn't happen."
But I love PR people because they have a finger on the pulse of things sometimes more than I do, and they can tell me what's going on.
PRWeek: Is it annoying sometimes if people hound you to write about a particular event?
Schroeder: I never want to promise anyone anything, because anything can happen, and I want to be trustworthy and not go back on my word. But I'm always very grateful to be alerted to stuff. If it's something where someone is hounding me everyday to do something, I react one of two ways: I do it to get them off my case or I'm like, ‘Stop bothering me about this.' You're only as good as the people who call you want to give you stuff, so I certainly would rather be hounded by someone than not.
PRWeek: Is there a large volume of email coming in?
Schroeder: Certainly you get a ton of releases. As a columnist you don't necessarily want to deal with something on a release because you want it to be yours and yours alone. If it's gone out to you then it's gone out to everyone.
PRWeek: But the best stuff comes from talking to people?
Schroeder: Yeah, and they have to be able to trust you. In this day and age a lot of people are fearful of getting a phone call from a reporter, whether they're a gossip columnist or not. But if they're familiar with you and know you're not going to screw them over, or know that you're very fair, certainly they'll be much more at ease and want to give you stuff.
Name: Anne Schroeder
Title: Gossip columnist
Outlet: The Politico
Preferred contact method: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: www.politico.com