In the New York Post’s reception area, a framed picture of Alexander Hamilton, the paper’s founder, hangs next to what is arguably the most amusing front-page headline in newspaper history: ’Headless Body Found in Topless Bar.’ It is that kind of irreverence that imbues all things Page Six, the paper’s infamous gossip column.
In the New York Post’s reception area, a framed picture of
Alexander Hamilton, the paper’s founder, hangs next to what is arguably
the most amusing front-page headline in newspaper history: ’Headless
Body Found in Topless Bar.’ It is that kind of irreverence that imbues
all things Page Six, the paper’s infamous gossip column.
The section, rarely found on page six anymore, is edited by Richard
Reporters Paula Froelich and Jared Paul Stern sit in the Post’s newsroom
surrounded by books about celebrities. They are opposite another gossip
columnist, Neal Travis, who founded Page Six with James Brady, who now
writes for Parade and Advertising Age.
Enter at your own risk
The reporting team is bursting with advice for publicists. ’Leave us
alone’ is their unanimous verdict. But if you’re calling with the
low-down on New York City’s best-known celebrities, politicians or
criminals, you’ll get an instant call back.
For many PR pros, the page simply cannot be ignored. ’It has a huge
impact - everybody in New York and LA reads it,’ says Lara Shriftman, a
partner in entertainment firm Harrison & Shriftman. Another, who wishes
to remain anonymous, advises clients that there is an inherent danger in
pitching the page, as a positive spin can never be guaranteed. That
deters few people from wanting a mention.
Page Six is also one of the few places that elevates publicists to the
level of socialites - and they love it. ’We write about publicists
because they are part of cafe society - they go out a lot and they know
what’s going on around town,’ says Johnson.
While many PR pros are the source of legitimate stories, others have no
clue about what the page is about, says Stern. ’The smart publicists
know they should give us stories that aren’t necessarily about their
clients. Some do nothing but complain. Complaining isn’t going to get
Adds Johnson: ’The stupidest people are the ones who say they are
promoting charity events for diseased children. What we need are stories
with a beginning, a middle and an end, with a plot and some character
For those familiar with the grainy black-and-white page, complete with
postage-stamp headshots, there are a few ways of ingratiating yourself
with the desk. One PR pro suggests writing up your own story in the
page’s style and faxing it over.
’Learn how to pitch. Don’t give us any crap,’ says the tough-talking
Froelich, who joined Page Six three months ago after covering interest
rates and derivatives at Dow Jones. ’Fax and call, and if we say we like
it, leave us alone. Don’t call us six times, otherwise it will be in the
One section, known as Sightings, is a compilation of single sentence
fragments about what famous people are up to around New York (’HEATHER
Locklear and three friends skipping food in favor of cocktails at
Michael Jordan’s Steak House ... BRIAN DePalma buying a Compaq computer
at J&R Computer World’).
’With Sightings, they have to be doing something. Make it proactive.
Never lie. Don’t say your client was out of town if they weren’t,’ says
Froelich, who adds that the page rarely takes items ahead of time. If
you’re pitching products, ’do it in a way we’ll understand,’ she
The number-one rule to remember when pitching Page Six is not to offer
the item elsewhere, even within the same newspaper. Froelich mentions a
story that was pulled at the last minute because a publicist had given
it to the TV desk as well. ’Every now and then you get an item which
comes out the same day,’ she says. ’Do that and we won’t talk to you.
Froelich admits that writing about the world of celebrities is sometimes
’weird.’ ’It’s like, whose life am I living?’ she says. She is out at
events two or three nights a week.
Page Six certainly has its friends and enemies. In the friends category
is MSNBC’s own gossiper, Jeanette Walls, who often gets a mention.
Try Alec Baldwin, who entered that category when he lambasted Johnson on
The Rosie O’Donnell Show a year ago. The entire amusing exchange between
Baldwin and Johnson on the Howard Stern Radio Show March 13 was posted
on the recently launched Web site, PageSix.com.
’You don’t celebrate anything or cast any light on anything,’ Baldwin
said to Johnson on the Stern show. ’You just pass on a lot of
unsubstantiated crap about people.’ Later in the interview he toned it
down: ’Richard Johnson is nowhere near the vitriol-dripping vampire that
he seems in his articles.’ After the exchange on the radio, Baldwin sent
Page Six a basket of wine and cheese. But Johnson had the last word in
print. He wrote that vampires seek blood, not wine.
Even Johnson admits that being a gossip columnist is not an easy job: ’I
think there is a burn-out factor. This job takes a lot out of you.’
(Indeed, Kate Coyne, Jeane MacIntosh and Ian Spiegelman left within the
past few months.) The rigors of dishing about New York’s elite on a
daily basis have sent some alumni looking for spiritual fulfillment in
the furthest reaches of the globe. One former writer is now living in
Katmandu, while another works as an advance woman for President
Clinton’s overseas visits.
Maxim magazine’s first editor was a Page Six writer, and another left to
launch Web site Mr. Showbiz.
The tanned and healthy Johnson shows no signs of burnout. With a cocked
brow and a glint in his eye, he recalls one of his favorite Page Six
Johnson got a tip that George Schultz, then secretary of state, had a
tattoo of a tiger on his behind. ’We were calling the state department
and they didn’t return calls, so we ran it,’ says Johnson. ’We never
heard from him, because it’s true.’
New York Post
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036-8790
Tel: (212) 930 8620
Fax: (212) 930 8541
Editor: Richard Johnson
Reporters: Paula Froelich, Chris Wilson
Jared Paul Stern.