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Media Notes: Howard Kurtz on the Personality Preoccupation of Mediaite.com

Mediaite's trial run gave clear indication of its focus. "Part of what we're doing is appreciating the celebrity of the media," founder Dan Abrams said.
Mediaite's trial run gave clear indication of its focus. "Part of what we're doing is appreciating the celebrity of the media," founder Dan Abrams said. (Mediaite.com)

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 6, 2009

Few would quarrel with the notion of Oprah Winfrey as the most influential television host, with Bill O'Reilly coming in second.

But Elisabeth Hasselbeck at No. 4 and Jon Stewart at No. 15 -- ahead of Bob Schieffer (37), Chris Matthews (40) and David Gregory (50)? Kelly Ripa (20) and Mary Hart (22) trouncing Wolf Blitzer (70), Joe Scarborough (89) and Charlie Gibson (117)?

If this kind of thing gets your pulse racing, Mediaite.com, which launches today, is your kind of place. Described by its managing editor as "Huffington Post meets Gawker," the Web site, created by NBC legal analyst Dan Abrams, was stirring controversy well before its debut.

"Part of what we're doing is appreciating the celebrity of the media," Abrams says. The site "plays into the vanity of these individuals," says Managing Editor Colby Hall, a former producer for MTV and VH1, but is "not over-snarky or mean and nasty."

The rankings are not a journalistic assessment, but rely heavily on online buzz. The TV hosts and anchors are graded on their number of viewers, Google hits and Twitter followers. (And, hey, I came in 78th, behind Ellen DeGeneres but creaming Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien.)

In other Mediaite rankings, No. 1 finishers include Newt Gingrich (pundits), Rupert Murdoch (media moguls), Jeff Zucker (TV titans), Chuck Todd (TV reporters), Glenn Beck (radio hosts), Paul Krugman (columnists), Bill Keller (newspaper/online editors) and Jon Meacham (magazine editors). All that seems like a lot of bandwidth for something so gimmicky, but Abrams says a more substantive approach would be dismissed as purely subjective.

Mediaite paints with a colorful palette, even if its hues will appeal mainly to journalists and those who obsess over them. By hiring bloggers who worked for Mediabistro and the Huffington Post, Abrams has put together a sassy critique of media missteps and foibles, an overall take not driven mainly by ideology.

"It's fun to take some jabs at people in the media, calling out hypocrisy and gaffes," says Abrams, who reveled in doing a "Beat the Press" segment when he was an MSNBC host.

With separate pages for TV, print and online, the site aggregates plenty of content, like other media-focused portals, while also offering opinionated takes on scandal coverage, journalistic feuds, ethical questions and sundry embarrassments. There is a "Confront the Critics" feature -- an artist gets to talk back to a negative reviewer -- and a "Sex Watch," as in, who's exploiting titillating images for page views?

Some headlines, from an exclusive peek at last week's trial run: "Where Will Sanford Sell His 'Love Story' on TV?" "CBS and CNN and Michael Jackson Coverage -- Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." "Which MSNBC Colleagues Did Joe Scarborough Call Out This Morning?" "Vibe Folds: Death Knell for All Music Mags?"

Editor at Large Rachel Sklar has assembled an eclectic mix of paid columnists and contributors, including Bonnie Fuller, the former editor of Us Weekly, and Jim Impoco, a former top editor at the New York Times and the now-defunct Portfolio magazine. (No unabashed conservative has been hired, but Sklar says some will be coming on board.) Abrams hopes other journalists will write purely for the exposure, as most of Arianna Huffington's contributors do.

The business model -- even with a lean, five-person staff -- is not entirely clear. The financing, for the moment, comes entirely from Abrams's pocket. One feature certain to generate traffic is a jobs marketplace for journalists looking for both media and non-media vacancies, as well as for employers with openings. But for now, there is no charge for the service.


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© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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