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Deccan Herald » Panorama » Detailed Story
OPEN SECRET
Life as a gossip girl
By Polly Vernon
Stories of sex, scandal and the latest WAG antics shape our news and generate hard cash. But who finds the super-hot scoops?
 
Nobody infiltrates the velvet-roped sanctum of a celebrity party quite as effectively as Katie Nicholl. "I have climbed up fire escapes," she says. "I have a reputation for being able to get in anywhere, and it's deserved. I am extremely good at it."

Katie Nicholl is diary editor for The Mail on Sunday newspaper. She is professionally obligated to insinuate herself (illicitly or otherwise) into fashionable parties, glamorous book launches, and high-profile charitable events in the name of acquiring gossip - gossip which she then shares with her 5 million readers via her weekly columns.

It was Nicholl who uncovered Prince Charles' diaries, and who sat on them for two long years until her source was ready. Nicholl's influence extends well beyond the limits of those who are affected directly by her snippets and titbits. Nicholl is powerful, because gossip is powerful.

Formerly the fluffiest, most fleeting of journalistic afterthoughts, the gossip content has gained astonishing currency over the course of the last few years. The gossip industry is a lucrative affair. Individual stories change hands for huge sums. A minuscule snippet phoned in to the Daily Mirror's 3am desk, can earn a casual source between £300 and £500; a lead story, provided by a credible and regular source, can earn an average of around £10,000.

Six years ago, gossip was the soul preserve of what former gossip columnist, Fleet Street editor and best-selling author Piers Morgan now describes as 'middle-aged men in suits trying to look cool while interviewing pop stars'. But, in July 2000, Morgan, who was editing the Daily Mirror at the time, launched a new concept in show-business reporting. "[Current editor of the Mirror] Richard Wallace and I came up with this idea of young women disarming all the male celebrities into talking to them." Formerly anonymous and ambitious young showbusiness reporters, graduates with experience on the news desks of national papers, were unleashed on to an unsuspecting demi-monde of footballers, soap stars, and glamour girls.

Inevitably, other papers began appointing their own young, irreverent, proactive female gossip columnists. In March 2003, The Daily Telegraph hired Celia Walden (Cambridge-educated daughter of former Tory MP George Walden, trained on London's Evening Standard, and The Mail on Sunday's ‘It's A Gossip Thing’ column) to edit its Spy column. Later that year, The Sun promoted Victoria Newton (who had seven years' experience as a showbusiness reporter, and had worked in Los Angeles as a Sun correspondent) to edit its longstanding Bizarre column. In August 2004, The Mail on Sunday gave Katie Nicholl her column, after poaching her from The Daily Telegraph The gossip-girl's lifestyle is intensely social. They go to an average of three parties a night each, and they sleep with their mobile phones under their pillows, because it's not uncommon for a source to call them at two in the morning. They're all attractive - although they object to the suggestion that they flirt their information out of people.

Perhaps the most compelling facet of their professional lives is the relationships the gossip girls have with their sources. “None of this would happen without the sources,” Nicholl says, emphatically. How does one acquire sources? “The only way is to be out and about and meeting people,” says Nicholl. What motivates a source? “Money, vengeance - the best stories are done for negative motives,” thinks Walden.

Opinion varies on what motivates the consumers of gossip. It's possible that we have simply become shallow or we derive pleasure from watching celebrities being built up and slapped down because we resent their status. Sociologists think that gossiping on a celebrity scale draws together otherwise disparate individuals, gives us a common frame of reference.

The Guardian
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