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So What Do You Do, Dylan Howard, Editor-in-Chief of Celebuzz?

'I want our stories to go beyond the headline'

By Richard Horgan - July 18, 2012
In the world of celebrity journalism, few stars are rising faster than that of Celebuzz editor-in-chief Dylan Howard. Count the scoops: Justin Beiber's scuffle with a paparazzo, the Desperate Housewives feud, and let's not forget that leak of Community star Chevy Chase ranting on show creator Dan Harmon. It was Celebuzz who posted the recording online -- five months later, Harmon was canned.

Yet, Howard says the BUZZMEDIA site will continue to make waves not just for its original reporting, but for the way its stories are covered. He says declining sales for typically negative tabloid stories show that users are hungry for more in-depth coverage of their favorite stars, and Celebuzz also has plans for a live video webcast beginning later this summer.

"This represents a substantial investment in the site and our people. Our users will also be a central part of the programming we produce, too," the native Australian told us by email. "This is not just a Web-only operation. We are evolving into a full multimedia, multi-platform operation and will be broadcasting content from two new, state-of-the-art studios, one on the Sunset strip and the other in the heart of Manhattan."

Watch out, TMZ. There's a kinder, gentler outlet in the building.

Name: Dylan Howard
Position: Editor-in-chief, Celebuzz
Resume: Cadet reporter for The Geelong Advertiser, covering sports. Entertainment reporter at Reuters Television in New York City and on-air reporter at the Seven Network in Australia. Senior executive editor of Radar Online and Star magazine. Recruited by BUZZMEDIA to lead Celebuzz in March. Taught television journalism at Monash University in Australia. Regularly appears as a celebrity and justice pundit on HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell, Dr. Drew and Fox News' Justice with Judge Jeanine. Four-time L.A. Press Club and National Entertainment Journalism Awards finalist.
Birthday: January 19
Hometown: Port city of Geelong, located in the state of Victoria, Australia
Education: Bachelor of Arts in journalism and politics from Deakin University
Marital status: Single
Media idol: "Too many to name."
Favorite TV shows: The Good Wife, Scandal, Revenge and The Newsroom
Guilty pleasure: Real Housewives. "So bad, it's good television."
Last book read: Bruce Guthrie's Man Bites Murdoch
Twitter handle: @dylanshoward

How did you obtain your biggest scoops?
Like any news organization, we don't comment on sourcing. That said, one thing I would like to mention... it's not just about the scoop at Celebuzz... If you look at the audience, users are traversing from site to site each day. It is our mission at Celebuzz to be the site where they become squatters.

How will we do that? We must provide the most comprehensive coverage of the top 40-plus stories each day that are being aggregated by our rivals. I want our stories to go beyond the headline. That sounds jingoistic, but there's method behind it. When you look around the Web, the top showbiz stories are all covered the same way, packaged like Associated Press copy. For instance, when Jason Trawick became a co-conservator for the affairs of fiancée Britney Spears in April, not even The Washington Post explained what is a co-conservatorship. I don't know what a co-conservator is, or what it does. If I am asking the question, I bet the 21-year-old college student in Missouri who reads our site is too.

What will make Celebuzz successful is putting these stories into context, often through the use of expert analysis. With that post, we will be dialing a lawyer into the post via Skype for a live chat to dish the 411. Because of that, our readership will extend well beyond the 9.6 million unique readers we had in April, as measured by Google Analytics. We're on the way, but we're not there yet.

"It is our mission at Celebuzz to be the site where readers become squatters."

Parent company BUZZMEDIA has been described as a "kinder, gentler TMZ," managed by several people who used to work with Harvey Levin. Are there certain kinds of celebrity stories that you will not touch, no matter how many hits might come from them?
I have a voracious appetite to want to break big stories. Therefore, any exclusive that comes across my desk, it would be remiss not to take a serious look at it. But, like any news organization, there are considerations that are made behind-the-scenes. That said, we are more People than Radar when it comes to reporting a so-called scandalous story. Take the recent allegations swirling around John Travolta, as one example. We all covered it, but not in the explicit and tawdry detail that others, like Radar, did.

Again, it comes back to depth. As we add key editorial personnel to our newsroom, our readers will see a noticeable change in how Celebuzz covers such stories. For example, with the benefit of a features desk, I would have commissioned a writer to investigate how Travolta could survive the scandal in Hollywood, or a narrative on the man whom the most serialized tabloid figures turn to in times of crisis, famed lawyer Marty Singer, or a piece that answered the question "Will the scandal hurt Travolta's career?" These were the questions we were all asking. Celebuzz will therefore provide answers.

Does that make us a "kinder and gentler" TMZ? It certainly makes us more authoritative, and, even though I admire Harvey Levin and what he has been able to achieve with the TMZ brand, I don't view the site as a competitor to Celebuzz.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Janice Min, Editorial Director of The Hollywood Reporter?

You've cultivated some great sources in Hollywood. What are the keys to gaining the trust of a high-powered publicist or someone close to a celebrity?
Publicists are important and sources can lead you to the pot of gold, but finding a path direct to the source can often be the most rewarding route. Case in point: Charlie Sheen.

As Sheen embarked on a 24/7 roller-coaster ride of tirades and rants, I was the one journalist who was actually there, documenting the scandal as it happened. Indeed, it's often forgotten, but before he spoke with the Today show, Piers Morgan Tonight, Dateline, TMZ, the Howard Stern Show, 20/20 aired its special and he took to UStream, Sheen sat down with Radar for a no-holds barred interview.

Being that close to the epicenter of a story was a remarkable. To understand how I landed it, we need to go back to October 26 of 2010, when Sheen was hospitalized after an incident with a high-class escort. After a little research, I hit gold, sourcing Sheen's phone number from another source. When I called his cell phone, his personal assistant Rick Calamaro, told me Sheen wouldn't be commenting. Unperturbed, I sent Sheen many more text messages, offering him that time-honored reporter's standby: a chance to put forth his side of the story. Eventually it paid off and I got replies from the man himself.

Our unlikely pairing continued through text message conversations over the next few months. When Sheen was rushed to the emergency room suffering 'severe abdominal pains,' 24 hours later he turned to me to break his silence after it was announced his bosses had persuaded him to check into rehab. Going straight to the source can deliver dividends; if not, at the very least, it gives you a good story to tell your pals at the pub.

"I've seen a number of American-born journalists in Hollywood who have a fear of hard work."

Does ever pay sources for stories?
As a principle, we believe payment should not be made for interviews or information. I think it is dangerous and undesirable to pay people to make serious and often unproven allegations against anyone. Money should not be a motivating factor in someone telling his or her story. However, I believe there are occasions when we are justified in paying a licensing fee for photographs, documents or video. In that scenario, we are no different than network news divisions, Entertainment Tonight, TMZ or even People, who like us, license photos from various agencies every day. Overall, though, we are able to break news based on the strength of our staff and the size of our audience.

You are the latest Australian journalist to find major success in Hollywood. In your opinion, what makes, proportionally, so many Down Under-bred journalists skilled at this side of the business?
Regardless of what went wrong in the practice of journalism at the News of the World, Rupert Murdoch's footprints are still all over journalism in Britain and Australia. He shaped a lot of journalists' careers, including this one. If you're an Aussie working in journalism here, there's a fair chance you worked for Murdoch there. Most of these titles have a dense concentration on celebrity-based scoops and populist news. From the outset, it was drilled into this young journalist that, to sell newspapers, you need to break stories. Therefore, it became part of my DNA. With the exception of a handful of rogue Brits, the Murdoch empire has produced a prodigious number of news breakers, who incidentally, do it the right way.

The other thing is hard work. I've seen a number of American-born journalists in Hollywood who have a fear of it. It staggers me. Recently, I've had people apply for jobs, go through the process, be selected for employment, and then when finite expectations are outlined, they bail. [Americans are] clock watchers, too. I used to sit in the newsroom waiting for the paper to hit the presses to ensure my stories were updated to the minute. No editor likes staffers who clock off at 5pm. We are in a 24/7 news cycle.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Janice Min, Editorial Director of The Hollywood Reporter?

Richard Horgan is co-editor of FishbowlLA.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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