Douglas Quenqua finds that seekers - and pitchers - of news from DC's social scene often turn to the Post's "Style""Style
isn't the first word that comes to anyone's mind when thinking of Washington, DC. Ironic, then, that The Washington Post's Style section should be the one most likely to generate talk among Washingtonians.
No one can offer any real evidence to back that up, of course. But people who live in DC know it's true, just as surely as Detroiters know who they have to be related to in order to get "The A Plan
on a new car.
has the gossip, the media criticism, the advice columns, the movie and TV reviews, the cocktail party roundups, Hints from Heloise, and best of all, the wise-ass profiles of politicians and power brokers who, on the front page, we're forced to handle so delicately. In here, though, it's mostly the locals, as temporary as they may be, undoing the top button of their collective stuffed shirt. It's the Washington Establishment at its most whimsical, which is a pretty funny notion in itself.
Lloyd Grove's gossip column, Reliable Sources, is the section's one feature most likely to generate cubicle-to-cubicle e-mail. Think the New York Post's Page Six, but substitute "Newt Gingrich
for every mention of "Sarah Jessica Parker.
Ditto "Ari Fleischer
for "Lizzie Grubman," and you'll get the idea. It was Grove who originally reported the contested story of an over-excited President Bush waving at Stevie Wonder during a concert at Ford's Theater. That's Washington gossip.
One day a week, The Reliable Source steps aside to make room for Out & About, which documents who's been seen where. There aren't enough cabs in the world to get you to one night's worth of cocktail parties in DC, but read Out & About often enough, and you can fake it pretty well.
True to its name, the Style section is where you'll find the Post's fashion features as well, but that's just a small part of its coverage. Why is it called The Style section then? Supposedly, when editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee, himself a DC legend, launched the section back in 1969, he didn't want to go with the too-common "Lifestyle" title, choosing instead to call it, simply, "Style."
Other popular features include Media Notes, written by media critic Howard Kurtz, and The TV Column, by Lisa de Moraes, who raises the art of sticking it to the networks to a whole new level. The Arts page keeps a critical watch over DC's odd blend of black-tie performances and underground theaters.
Style Plus is a "news you can use
section. One recent article dealt with people who just can't bring themselves to see scary movies, and thought pieces about "getting back to normal
after September 11 are becoming common.
And here's the good news: You can pitch the whole thing.
"We're certainly receptive, because you never know where a good story will be found,
says deputy assistant managing editor Debra Heard. "Just call the main number and describe to an aide what it is you're calling about. They can figure out which editor to go to."
Washington PR professionals give the section mixed reviews for receptiveness.
Stories of placed features abound - as do tales of unreturned phone calls and broken promises.
"It's sort of a schizophrenic thing,
says Barbara Ware, a DC-area publicist who recently placed a friend and ex-employer on the front page. "They're a local paper, but they want to be national, like The New York Times.
Ware wisely fed that dichotomy by pitching a story on the 30th on-air anniversary of a local Washington TV news anchor, an African-American woman who Ware believes is the only anchor in TV history to remain in the same time slot for 30 years.
Ware delivered a 20-second phone pitch to whomever answered the phone, then was instructed to send an e-mail to Heard. She never heard from the editors again, but within days, a reporter was on the story - a situation she suggests could have been embarrassing for her. "At least call, give a heads-up, and let me know you're working with me,
Clearly someone who wants to waste neither her nor anyone else's time, Heard stresses that the Post does not publish any sort of holiday gift guide. "We get hundreds and hundreds of queries, and the answer is always no.
But holidays still bring an uptick in consumer coverage, and any time you can draw some connection between your product and an elected official, your odds of placement rise considerably.
Because, in the end, Style is still a Washington product. Here, stories about Chelsea Clinton will always trump those about Madonna, and Al Gore's facial hair far outweighs Harvey Weinstein. A political connection is your best bet for piquing the interests of these editors. That doesn't mean you have to be a loose-lipped staffer with an itchy dialing finger to get something placed - but it wouldn't hurt to know one.