JOURNALIST Q&A: Richard Leiby

Losing Lloyd Grove to the New York Daily News silenced The Washington Post's "Reliable Source" column for a spell. Last month, Post staffer Richard Leiby restarted the Beltway's favorite people page. Just don't call it a gossip column.

Losing Lloyd Grove to the New York Daily News silenced The Washington Post's "Reliable Source" column for a spell. Last month, Post staffer Richard Leiby restarted the Beltway's favorite people page. Just don't call it a gossip column.

PRWeek: Is "Reliable Source" a gossip column? Richard Leiby: We don't print gossip here; we fumigate the word "gossip." I like to call my column "a carefully sourced compendium of interesting news items about interesting people." PRWeek: What makes a good column item? Leiby: I guess I know one when I see it. My first few columns focused fairly heavily on national security controversies because I came from that world. But in my memo outlining what I hoped to do with the column, I said something like, "I hope to pierce the well-spun cocoons of politicians and celebrities." Gossip columnists have been doing this for centuries: They take the readers inside the castles of the rich and powerful. That satisfies a certain curiosity we all have about other people, especially people who lead lives in the limelight. I don't want to sound highfalutin', but if you read any of Shakespeare's history plays, it's the same thing. Human nature never changes, and we all want to read about other humans' behavior. PRWeek: Do you have any reservations about engaging in the type of reporting that many consider supercilious or debasing? Leiby: No reservations because I don't intend to be doing supercilious or debasing stuff. In an online chat I said I aspired to be the argyle sweater of journalism: warm, not ugly. PRWeek: In the past, Presidents Bush and Clinton have acknowledged following the "Reliable Source." In the scheme of things, how powerful is gossip? Leiby: It's not so much gossip that's powerful; it's the connections the column exposes that our readers want to know about. In Washington (which is a one-industry town, much like Hollywood), you learn a lot about who's important - the truly powerful policymakers - by chronicling the company they keep. Political wives make certain alliances. Dinner parties are carefully orchestrated events. It's all part of the great pecking order in DC, where access to political power is the most important thing. PRWeek: What has the response been to your first few columns? Leiby: People seem to be reading it. I've been swamped by e-mails and calls. I hope that keeps up. PRWeek: What is your view of PR? Leiby: My wife worked in PR (at a hospital in St. Paul, MN), so I understand what the field is about. I'm open to pitches, but I'm not going to be a promoter of anything, per se. I have a general rule when it comes to PR, embodied in a quote from somebody very important in TV whose name escapes me: "News is what somebody wants to suppress. The rest is advertising." ----- Name: Richard Leiby Publication: The Washington Post Title: Columnist, "Reliable Source" Preferred contact method: leibyr@washpost.com Website: washingtonpost.com

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