TV & Movies

Bragging Right: Lainey Gossip's Elaine Lui on Building a Diverse Biz

Her entertainment site, LaineyGossip.com, has grown 30 percent in the last year and gets name-checked by Vanity Fair and Jezebel on the regs. Here, Elaine Lui lays down the secret to her success

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(Illustration: Bijou Karman)

In 2013, I made Toronto Life’s Most Influential list. Naturally, I was flattered. But once the narcissism wore off, I had to ask myself: How do I keep influencing?

LaineyGossip.com started in 2003 as a newsletter to a few friends. In 2004, it morphed into a gossip blog—and joined the ranks of the other blogs changing how celebrity news was consumed. Instead of simply taking what the weekly tabloids were saying at face value, I was analyzing celebs’ strategies and motivations, and what our reactions to those narratives say about our own values and behaviours.

In 2006, LaineyGossip.com made Entertainment Weekly’s list of 100 Best Entertainment Sites. In the past  two months alone, it’s been name-checked by Vanity Fair, New York, Jezebel, Buzzfeed and the Independent. I believe the reason we’ve stuck around is because we haven’t limited our coverage to surface scandals. Instead, I open every blog with an essay about subjects like race, equality or rape culture—all against the backdrop of celebrity.

What I’m most proud of, however, is the range of voices on the site. Over the past few years, as there’s been a more urgent conversation about diversity, I’ve made it a priority to hire women from different backgrounds. I’m the Canadian-born daughter of Chinese immigrants. Duana’s parents are also immigrants; her background is Irish and Egyptian. Sarah is Native American. Kathleen is black, with roots in Ghana, and was born in Canada. Sasha self-identifies as part-Chinese, part-Yugoslavian and was born in Hong Kong. Maria was born in Canada to Italian immigrants. Joanna is Jewish Canadian. Hayley is white; her parents were born in Canada. Our site coordinator,  Emily, is also white. Together we’ve grown LaineyGossip.com into a site that generates 6.2 million visits a month.

At first, building the team was a matter of need: as the site expanded, it became impossible for me to cover every story. But it was also important to me that the people writing those stories represented diverse perspectives. In May, Duana wrote a passionate defence of Keira Knightley when a director who’d once worked with Knightley publicly derided her. This was a case of an insecure man blaming a woman for his failure, something Duana is not unfamiliar with in the nearly two decades she’s worked in the entertainment industry. When Beyoncé released Lemonade, Kathleen reflected on her own experience as a black woman in relation to Bey’s depiction of black love,  pride and redemption. And when Amy Schumer’s feminism was called into question this summer after a male writer on her show criticized rape survivors, Sarah drew from her own past as a comic to comment on the expectations women face in this male-dominated field. The response to these posts is that there is a response. Some readers have praised our views; others have been critical. And while it’d be great if everyone just agreed with us, it’s more important that we are talking to one another. A bonus of all this conversation? In one year, our traffic has grown by 30 percent.

There is still much more to be done. I want to include more content about Asian celebs and First Nations culture. But I also want to celebrate how far LaineyGossip.com has come—not only because the braggart in me craves the recognition, but also because I want diversity to be a thing more people boast about. Businesses are applauded for making money—and they brag about it. But success should also be measured in terms of diversity. If the success of LaineyGossip.com is directly related to our diversification, and this is what I choose to brag about, I’m trying to send a message that—above site traffic and name-checks—this is the boast that matters. And if more businesses do the same, hopefully improving diversity and inclusion will one day be valued as highly as profitability. What an influence that would have.

Elaine Lui appears on The Social and eTalk, is the founder of Lainey Gossip and the author of Listen to the Squawking Chicken.

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Lainey, For Real: The Appeal of Not Taking the High Road