Elaine “Lainey” Lui has been breaking entertainment news since the launch of her world-famous celebrity gossip website, LaineyGossip.com, and as a correspondent on CTV’s Canada’s #1 entertainment show, etalk. Also a co-host on CTV’s The Social, Lainey is recognized for her unique insights into Hollywood and pop culture, along with her sharp business acumen as a successful female entrepreneur.
In a far-reaching and intimate profile in The Washington Post, we get a complete picture of Lui’s rise in an era of gossip blogging and where her brand of entertainment news fits in what can often be a hostile landscape. Here are some highlights from the must-read piece:
Lui, 44, is a gossip evangelist. She believes in its value and its power: As a communication tool, a collective finger on the pulse of our culture, a means of sussing out our morals, our insecurities, our aspirations, our fears. She’s part investigative reporter, part breaking-news ethicist, part social anthropologist.
“My job,” she says, “is to dissect the celebrity ecosystem.”
Lui doesn’t just cover celebrities. She covers celebrity, which she understands is not some incidental byproduct of an entertainment career but a profession unto itself.
“The conversation about celebrity gossip is a conversation about ourselves, not about the subject,” Lui says. “It’s an illumination about who we are and what we believe in.”
Lui was 30 years old when she left her job in social work at the University of British Columbia to move home to Toronto to care for her mother. Staving off loneliness, Lui would send a daily email of her musings on celebrity to two of her former colleagues. They started sending it to two friends of theirs, and so on, until Lui had a newsletter with thousands of readers. When her email list grew so big it crashed the server, a friend suggested Lui start a blog. Lui’s reply: “What’s a blog?” It was 2003.
She wrote her blog from 6 to 10 p.m., after getting home from her day job. “I had no sources. It was not a career,” she says.
Only a few months after LaineyGossip.com went live, “I started getting contacted by people who were working in the industry who were like, ‘I really like your take on this situation. You’re not far off,’ ” Lui says. By 2006, it was her career, as she took Lainey Gossip full time.
Though she didn’t realize it then, Lui was part of an Internet gossip wave, launching her site around the same time as Perez Hilton, dlisted, Just Jared and PopSugar — a fleet of voice-y, irreverent, online-only upstarts that were about to disrupt the entire celebrity gossip industry.
“No one — People magazine, Entertainment Weekly, E! — none of them saw these gossip bloggers coming,” BuzzFeed’s Petersen said. “In the mid-2000s, they really significantly and permanently changed the rules about how this stuff works.”
The established players respected formal guidelines set by publicists and traded soft-focus, sycophantic “stories” for, say, the exclusive rights to wedding photos. Lui and her cohort had no access to protect and, therefore, no incentive to say anything other than what they thought. And where Perez had snark and Just Jared brought almost pathological positivity, Lui saw in gossip “the ultimate case study of humanity.”
Her stories explored not just that day’s scuttlebutt but also the psychological underpinnings of the public’s fixations. Take Lui’s explanation of that perennial question of gossips: Is Jennifer Aniston Pregnant, or Did She Just Eat Tacos For Lunch to Fill the Crushing Emptiness Inside Her That Only a Baby Can Fill?
“I’ll talk about it from the perspective of: Why is everyone so keen on her having a baby? What does that say about us?” Lui said. “That projection is a lens that we can dissect about society’s views on how women contribute to our community and what being the ‘ideal woman’ is.”
Lainey Gossip receives 1.3 million monthly visits and has a deep roster of writers. Lui, who is Chinese Canadian, has made a point to hire mostly women, many of whom are women of color. “I feel like that’s what the Internet has given us an opportunity to do: lift up these voices.”