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So What Do You Do, Michael Musto, Entertainment and Gossip Columnist?

'I'm proud to have been a pioneer in some way'

- June 19, 2013
If a fantastic production could be personified, its name would be Michael Musto. In the small cadre of journalists who've carved out notoriety for themselves, he is the legend. Last month, after 27 years as the mastermind behind The Village Voice's "La Dolce Musto" column, where he delved into New York's delicious entertainment and gossip, Musto was terminated from the paper along with two other veteran staffers. He could have been devastated and spiraled into an appropriately dramatic funk -- could have, but didn't. In the spirit of his favorite celebrity, Diana Ross, the Musto show simply went on with glitz and sparkle intact.

The newest iteration of his career includes a Q&A column with Gawker and another on called "Musto! The Musical!". Both, he says, are merely extensions of his expertise.

"It's not that different for me, because I'm like the gayest person on the planet, and I always wrote with my gay sensibility in every syllable," he told us. "I'm proud to have been a pioneer in some way, able to be an out, gay writer. Now that LGBT media is everywhere, it's a great new world, a fabulous new landscape where there's no more secrecy. But I still manage to be special because my take makes me unique."

Name: Michael Musto
Position: Journalist and author
Resume: Began tenure with The Village Voice writing features before launching "La Dolce Musto" in 1984, which he wrote for 27 years until May 2013. Appeared as a guest on several TV shows, including The Real Housewives of New York and Smash. Named to the "Out 100," a listing of the country's most influential LGBT people, in 2011. Author of four books, including 2011's Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back.
Hometown: New York City
Education: Columbia University
Marital status: Single
Media idol: Theater critics Charles Isherwood (NYT) and Charles McNulty (LA Times)
Favorite show: The Golden Girls
Guilty pleasure: Dots candy and French fries
Last book read: Debbie Reynolds' memoir, Unsinkable
Twitter handle: @mikeymusto

So, let's address the obvious first. Did you hear the rumblings of trouble before the axe fell at the Voice, and what were your thoughts when you were told?
Well, the editor and deputy editor had quit, because they didn't want to do the layoff. And one of them, as they left, told me that I needed to worry. So, I knew I was on the chopping block. But, by the time the owner called me in a week later, I had already lined up my new life because I knew it was coming.

It seems that the Voice is perpetually going through staff changes, layoffs or scandals of some sort. What do you think the paper is still getting right, and where do you think it erred along the way?
It's not really for me to say, but it's been sad to see the marquee names being laid off one after the other. It was very bizarre to watch my friends and colleagues eliminated leading up to my own termination. It seems to have taken a lot of the soul and guts out of the paper. But for years, it was a great place for me to run free and explore my favorite subjects with abandon. I treasure my time there.

"I knew I was on the chopping block."

How were you able to sustain such a long career there through all of that, including working under different editors with different personalities?
For one thing, I'm always extremely professional. I've never missed a deadline. I always turn in clean copy. I adapt to the times and cover events and personalities that are relevant at the moment, as well as other historical items. I never got involved in office politics. I kind of kept my distance. And I did my job to the max. If they asked me to do one blog a day, I ended up doing six or seven just because I'm that kind of worker bee, and I wanted everything to be tip-top.

Already, you've got jobs lined up all over the place. How did it all come together so quickly? Were you approached for these opportunities after word went out, or did you pitch yourself?
When it got onto that I was going to be laid off and the word was out, I didn't have to pitch myself. People started coming to me. So, by the end of the week, I had lined up all this stuff. It was only on contingency, because I thought the Voice might keep me on in some capacity -- the rumor was that I was going to be a Web-only [columnist] -- and I was prepared to work that out with them. But it turned out to be a complete layoff, so I was able to take these other opportunities.

Now that you're a free agent of sorts, how will your pieces for these outlets differ from what you were known for at the Voice? Is there anything you feel you have more freedom to delve into now?
I always have great freedom, so that's nothing new. My Gawker column, which premiered [June 13], is kind of a very saucy Q&A with interesting celebrities and notables, and the first one is this 23-year-old author, Marie Calloway, who's written a book that's made a sensation of her sexual exploits. It's probably not the kind of thing I would've covered in the Voice, so it's good that I'm stretching a little bit here and starting off the Gawker column with somebody that's not very typically Musto. But, generally, I'm going to continue to do the things I've always done, which is romp around different scenes that make New York and pop culture exciting and say whatever I have to say about them with fearlessness and hopefully some charm.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Jess Cagle, Managing Editor of Entertainment Weekly?

You opened the door for other gay writers and coverage of the LGBT community in a broader sphere. What issue affecting the community do you think is still not getting fair coverage?
Everyone's always focused on gay marriage, which is important, but it's become sort of a symbolic lightning rod for the community. Attaining gay marriage everywhere represents equal rights to the community, but there are so many other issues, like preventing and punishing hate crimes and workplace protection for transgenders and the entire community. So, I think we have to fight for the whole plate of issues, not just go for the wedding ring, which personally doesn't interest me that much, though I realize the importance for the community. Getting married is the last thing I'd ever want to do. It's interesting that things like marriage and the "don't ask, don't tell" [policy] are the two big topics and the two things I never wanted for myself: getting married or going into the military. I'm not even sure those are two different things, by the way. But I understand the importance of them to the community, and, yet, I still feel we need to broaden the pallet of things we're fighting for.

You are a bona fide celebrity in your own right. Tell us about a time you read something about yourself that wasn't true and how you handled it.
Somebody had put on a gossip board that they'd heard I'd been hit by a car and I was in deep trouble. It was completely fabricated, and I didn't even fight it because people saw that I was still producing work so, obviously, I was fine. Also, people were contacting me and I got jobs out of it, and an old boyfriend contacted me to reconnect. I ended up totally winning, but it was fabricated. People can make up whatever they want on these anonymous boards.

As a leading gossip reporter, I'm sure you get plenty of pitches and rumors sent your way. What criteria must a subject meet in order for you to write about it? How do you weed out the silliness from the real scoops?
You have to realize when somebody might have an agenda. A lot of people have an axe to grind about a celebrity, so they'll try to feed you something erroneous. They might even believe it in a warped perspective, but that doesn't make it true. So I've tended to become very psychologically astute in noticing when somebody has something up their sleeve in terms of why they're so desperate for me to run something. You also get to know certain sources through the years as being reliable and trustworthy, so you stick to those people. And you try to get to the other side of the story, because there are two sides to everything. You have to rely a lot on instinct and research and go with your hunches, but also back that up with some real reporting.

"Every writer has his or her own unique voice, and you can only find yours by writing, by experimenting."

What three pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring gossip or entertainment writer, especially in light of how the Internet has impacted that space?
Find your voice. Every writer has his or her own unique voice, and you can only find yours by writing, by experimenting. The more you write, the closer you're going to get to your true voice. Secondly, be aggressive. No one's going to knock on your door and offer you opportunities. You have to sell yourself -- not to the point where they're going to want to get a restraining order on you -- but you have to be pretty forward about making your mark on the world. Once you do one thing and it's well-received, that's going to lead to other opportunities. Thirdly, I would say don't go for the momentary fame and flash. Think of the larger picture. Go for quality, go for a lifetime in this profession by building good relationships, doing good work and being a professional.

If you could get a do-over of one thing in your career what would it be? (And, yes, you must pick one thing.)
Hmm. In, like, the year 2000, there was a short-lived sitcom called Talk to Me with Kyra Sedgwick, and they asked me to be a guest star. I wasn't crazy about the script, and I went back to them with some suggested changes rather than just saying, 'Sure, I'll do it,' because it would've been a great experience. I kind of regret that I second-guessed that offer. In retrospect, it wouldn't have made any difference in my career -- it just would've been something fun to do. You tend to blow up your regrets in your mind as bigger mishaps than they really were. I've gotten to be on so much TV. I was recently on the finale of Smash as myself and it's all lovely, but somehow that stuck in my mind as something I should've just jumped at instead of questioning. You have to make mistakes, though, and when I read the memoirs of celebrities and the f*ck ups they made along the way, the things they turn down and the regrets they have, mine pale in comparison. I learned from it. Now I just say 'yes' to everything.

Janelle Harris resides in Washington, D.C., frequents Twitter and lives on Facebook.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Jess Cagle, Managing Editor of Entertainment Weekly?

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