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Volume 45, No. 3
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Gossip Girl

Whether blogging from the Oscars or jetting with the Jonas Brothers, Molly Goodson ’04 feeds the endless cycle of online celebrity news—and millions of Web users eat it up.

By Adam Rogers '92 / Photos by Robert Durell

After the Oscars, Molly Goodson ’04 thought about hitting a few parties, maybe catching a few movie stars with a drink or two in them. Her press credential would have gotten her inside. But the idea didn’t catch. She’d spent hours in a room deep inside the Kodak Theatre, listening to dozens of Academy Awards winners tell a crowd of her fellow reporters how their victories made them feel. She was whipped. Plus, she still had notes to turn into articles for the Web site she edits, PopSugar. So she made her way back to her hotel, on Sunset Boulevard. “From the hotel I could see the red carpet for the Vanity Fair party,” Goodson says. Recession be damned; every year, that magazine throws one of the most opulent post-Oscar parties in town. “It just amazed me,” she says of the throngs gathered to see celebs. “There were hundreds of people there, and they would just sit there until, like, 2 in the morning, just screaming.”

Still, to Goodson, that’s not so weird. As the editor of a Web site dedicated to celebrities—gossip, let’s say—Goodson is responsible for generating a near-ceaseless flow of information for the kind of people who know where the Vanity Fair party is and want to see who is attending, even if they themselves are not.

Put it this way: Millions of people want to know what Molly Goodson thinks about the Oscars, and movie stars, and the clothes of famous singers. “Obviously in some ways I’m catering to people who really love this stuff,” she says. “But it’s always interesting to see someone who, when she sees Kate Winslet, just screams as loud as she possibly can.”

Goodson herself is no screamer—but she understands the impulse. Growing up in Newton, Mass., near Boston, Goodson cared about celebrities and show business about as much as any Gen-Yer, which is to say, more than a little. But as a political science major at Pomona, she assumed her future was on Capitol Hill, working in a congressional office. You know— something serious.

She almost got there. After graduating, Goodson spent two summers interning in Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office, and then headed for a New York-based nonprofit. “I had a lot of free time, and a computer,” Goodson says. “It was 2004, and the Internet gossip world was really blowing up, so I started reading these sites as they were becoming more and more popular.”

The world she’s talking about—Gawker, TMZ, Perez Hilton, Daily Candy, and so on—is a thriving, gossip-fed ecology. Take the movie Sweet Smell of Success, add the New York Post’s Page Six, and multiply that by the speed of the Internet. Then factor in an audience that loves its celebrity icons more than ever but simultaneously wants to see more of their flaws, peccadilloes and cellulite.

Goodson loved all that stuff. She blogged on her own for a while, on a gossip-oriented site she named Mollygood. She honed her trademark sly sarcasm—but rarely aimed it at the people she wrote about. “At that point there were a lot of nasty sites and a lot of sites written by men, which were basically just babes in bikinis,” she says. “So I was able to have my own voice that was different than anything else out there. I mean, I’m a sarcastic person, but I never wanted to be mean.”

After about a year of that, she followed her husband, Kjell Jorgenson ’02, to San Francisco, where he was entering a residency program at California Pacific Medical Center. Goodson kept blogging—she was working from home, alone, keeping odd East Coast hours, with most of her human contact taking place digitally. In 2006, at just about the moment that the solitude was starting to get to her, Goodson got an email from an online acquaintance, Lisa Sugar, editor of a suite of Web sites aimed primarily at younger women. As her Web empire grew, Sugar had come to realize that she needed someone to take the lead role on the flagship, PopSugar. Now that Goodson had moved to San Francisco, she seemed like a good recruit.

Goodson took the job—and kept her voice. Of the 80 or so people posting articles on the Sugar network, up to 15 posts a day on 16 different sites, Goodson is the only one who gets a byline. It went so well that she soon added a new title: editorial creative director. She now has oversight over everything on the Sugar sites. “Molly is like this superwoman. She consumes so much information so quickly,” says Sugar. “Just keeping up with the Sugar sites every day is a lot, but Molly has this amazing grasp of everything that’s going on outside of our world, too.”

She has to, of course. The world Goodson writes for doesn’t look like classic, fast-paced daily journalism. It’s even faster, for one thing, and that accelerated pace comes with an expectation that news items will be interspersed with lists, jokes, polls, photo galleries, and opinion pieces. It also means that more mistakes will be made—but they’ll be corrected more quickly, as well. And readers online expect a certain level of interaction with their news providers and each other. “You can email Molly, and Molly will write you back,” says Sugar. “It’s great to read Vogue, but there’s no engagement with Anna Wintour,” its editor.

Even the notion of competing for scoops has been inverted. Online, cooperation is almost as valuable as beating the other guy. “If we have a story I think is going to be good, I will individually email every editor at sites that I know and tell them it’s coming up,” says Goodson. It works because “traffic”—the number of readers looking at your site (and the advertisements that support it) is the defining metric. “If someone gets a scoop, you can link to it and get some of that traffic and reputation for being fast,” says Brian Lam, assistant managing editor at one of Sugar’s competitors, Gawker Media. “The source gets credit, too, because the traffic flows in their direction, like a tax.”

Does it work? According to Web statistics site Quantcast, almost 2 million people a month read PopSugar. (Over 3 million people read Gawker.) And if all this seems super-weird to you, you’re in a shrinking category. According to the latest study of the state of the news media from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, nearly four in 10 Americans use the Internet as their main source of news, up from two in 10 the year before. Among young people, that number is even higher.

Sugar Inc.’s headquarters, on the 15th floor of a building in San Francisco’s financial district, is made up of square-pillared, open-plan spaces decorated in muted pinks and grays and populated mostly by women in their 20s. Opposite the front door hangs a series of vaguely anime-styled cartoon portraits, each one representing the editorial personality behind a Sugar site. One of them has medium-length brown hair, a fresh-and-open face, and a stylish top. “That’s me,” Goodson says, tapping the picture and smiling slyly. In person she is less coy and less coiffed.

The Oscars are behind her, but this sunny afternoon sees Goodson in a typical rush. “I’m online at 7 a.m.,” she says. “I commute in at 9, leave at about 5, and I’m online again from about 8 p.m. to midnight every night, either posting or getting ready for the next morning. On weekends I’m never too far from the Web. I just like to be connected all the time.” In addition to writing for PopSugar, Goodson blogs, maintains an active social network presence on Facebook, and regularly posts sub-140-character updates on the microblogging site Twitter.

The specific rush today is aimed at some very special access. Goodson is going to share a private plane ride down to Los Angeles with the Jonas Brothers, who…well, look, if you don’t know who the Jonas Brothers are, you a) have no contact with teeny-bopper music and b) should just Google them. The plane ride is, to be honest, the sort of quality access you get if your stated editorial position is “be nice,” and the Brothers will turn out to be three exhausted, bored kids, wiped out from an 11- city tour, depressed from crummy returns on their first movie. “The girls in this situation act out. This generation of boys don’t,” Goodson says. “They just play their clean virgin selves.”

Nevertheless, the experience yields a few bursts of text on Twitter, and a few posts for PopSugar—feeding the beast. But even though she has a byline, Goodson holds pieces of herself back from the blogs she runs. “In the beginning, a blog was a place where you really liked someone’s take on things, and you read them every day. You got to feel like you knew them,” Goodson says. “More and more actual news stories are now broken on the ’net. But you can’t share your entire life. You choose the bits that you share, so you still have your privacy.” So maybe new and old media aren’t so dissimilar after all.

There’s still a line between reporter and audience, even when that reporter is a blogger. “I’m young, and I’ll have a lot of chances in my life to do different kinds of journalism,” Goodson says. “Like, do I want to write a book? Maybe I don’t need to. It’s not going to be my big break. I have worked 24 hours a day for the past three years so that when I send someone an email, they’ll know who I am.”

“And,” she adds, “I get to go to the Oscars. It’s very cool.”

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