MEDIA: Sightings: Page Six writers dishing on how to pitch them - The New York Post’s gossipers are such tough-talkers you might cower from calling them. But as Claire Atkinson explains, they are a force that cannot be ignored

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.

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

Johnson.



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

you anywhere.’



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

development.’



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

toilet.’



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

says.



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.

That’s bullshit.’



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.

Enemies?



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.





Celebrity complaints



’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

stories.



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.’





CONTACT LIST



New York Post



Page Six



1211 Avenue of the Americas



New York, NY 10036-8790



Tel: (212) 930 8620



Fax: (212) 930 8541



E-mail: firstinitialsurname@nypost.com



Web: www.pagesix.com



Editor: Richard Johnson



Reporters: Paula Froelich, Chris Wilson



Jared Paul Stern.



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