How Bossip Makes a Headline


“The headlines are hands down the best in the world,” said Angela Rye, the CNN commentator and attorney.

“I love to read it,” said the sports journalist Jemele Hill. “I just can’t retweet it.”

Bossip, an Atlanta-based gossip website with a focus on black celebrity, was founded in 2006 and acquired by the media network Interactive One last year. Since then, the audience of the website has more than doubled, according to Janeé Bolden, the site’s managing editor. In part, that’s because of the website’s lyrical, often biting headlines, which inspire devotion, fear and above all, strong reactions. Ms. Bolden said that Lil Wayne’s manager made the sign of the cross when she told him where she worked.

The Times asked Bossip editors to talk about some of their favorite headlines and how they came about.

Associate editor

“I wrote that headline at like probably about 7:30 in the morning sitting on the toilet,” said Jason Ryan Lee, 36, about a Bossip takedown of Taylor Swift’s recent cover of the Earth, Wind and Fire song “September.”

Mr. Lee, whose colleagues call him Jah, said that he conceives of headlines as a rapper might, trying to stuff them full of jokes, references and other linguistic tricks. He thought he stuck the landing earlier this month after finding out that Taylor Swift had turned the Earth, Wind and Fire hit into an acoustic ballad.

“She put a damn banjo on an Earth, Wind and Fire song,” Mr. Lee said, laughing. “How much more Birkenstock, L. L. Bean can you make this song?”

He wanted the headline to capture what he called Ms. Swift’s audacity so he used a word that nodded to whitewashing: caucasity. As a bonus, it rhymed. (In further describing Ms. Swift as a “soft-boiled ostrich egg,” Mr. Lee was referencing a recent episode of the FX show “Atlanta.”)

“You have a biting term that is racially charged and it speaks directly to our audience of people who are majority black who will understand this emotion of, I can’t believe she did this,’” he said.

Associate editor

“I went through a couple of ideas,” Ms. Canada said, of this Stacey Dash headline. But she settled on the current form, because “nobody likes dust mites.”

Much of Bossip’s celebrity coverage is focused on women. Like other gossip sites, its readership skews female (roughly 60 percent of its readers are women, according to comScore). Its staff of editors is evenly split between women and men.

Sometimes that can make for a balancing act. Ms. Canada said that she has sometimes tweaked the headlines of colleagues — for example, when they were writing about the pregnancy of Blac Chyna, the entrepreneur and tabloid staple.

“Someone wrote a headline about ‘huge’ Blac Chyna does such and such,’” Ms. Canada said. “She’s pregnant. Of course she’s huge. And we didn’t run it.”

As for the Bossip headlines that end up on the page, Ms. Canada stressed that many should not be taken all that seriously. For example: “The Bumpy Bachelor: Is Newly Single Usher Smashing This Love And Hip Hop Star To Smithereens Already?!?

“We know everyone who’s dating is not getting smashed to smithereens,” said Ms. Canada. “But it sounds cool so we just throw it in there sometimes. I definitely understand from a feminist perspective how people can see that as problematic. As a woman working for the website, I sometimes tell the other guys, pull back, chill a little.”

Associate editor

Before he was hired by Bossip, Alex Ford, 35, worked as a copy editor at the Atlanta Daily World. He credits the language restrictions of the older media publication with helping sharpen his creativity. “I can write a headline about anything,” he said.

Curse words and slurs are banned from Bossip headlines, so Mr. Ford has to find a way around them. “I am the originator of saltine fury,” he said of a headline he pulls out to describe white people complaining online about black success, a phenomenon that came up around the release of “Black Panther.”

“I sat there one day and I was like how can I write this ‘Black Panther’ headline without saying cracker or honkie?” said Mr. Ford. “I created saltine fury just there on the spot, just being crazy. And Jah, he had been working with ‘mayo packets.’ He had used it before, and I was like, I can’t use saltine fury in this headline without mayo packets giving it that mayo delicious flavor.’”

Bossip headlines are oppositional by nature, regardless of the race of the celebrity. The site slams white and black celebrities alike.

“There are certain people that we know agitate our audience and agitate us as well,” Ms. Canada said.

The youngest editor, Rebecah Jacobs, 23, is also the site’s only white editor. “I never say anything that would be crazy for a white writer,” she said. “I do think there’s going to be a time where someone sees my avatar on Twitter and tries to start something. I’m sure some people would have an issue with it. To their credit, they didn’t know I was white when they hired me.”

Paid discovery specialist

After the election of Doug Jones to the Alabama Senate in December, Mr. Dennis, who has taught journalism at Morehouse College, wanted a headline that would point out that 98 percent of African-American women had voted for the Democratic candidate.

“Black woman voters are the reason that Jones won,” Mr. Dennis said. “One of the benefits of a place like Bossip is that you can say the truth that a lot of people don’t want to say, especially about black people.”

Though the majority of Bossip articles are about pop culture and celebrity, its editors say that there are subjects, such as police brutality, that they will not joke about.

“A lot of times, I’ll find a police brutality story that might not be as well known,” Ms. Canada said, citing the example of Ulysses Wilkerson, a black teenager who was hospitalized after being beaten by the police. “I’ll keep pounding on it to make sure people know what’s going on. Even if this doesn’t give me all the pageviews I need, it’s something I have to report on.”

Mr. Dennis said he had seen readers remark that “you know its serious when Bossip gives you a straightforward headline.”

Many editors said that their goal writing for the site was to be as funny as possible, but Mr. Dennis had different take on his role.

“My highest priority is to be that voice, that voice that when black people go onto the site, they feel like they are seen and spoken to,” he said. “Being black in America makes you feel like you’re crazy, makes you feel like you’re alone. I know people say we want to be funny and we do, but it is not a light responsibility. We take that responsibility seriously to give people something that they feel like can really speak for them.”



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