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Gossip site turns stars into prey

Celebrity gossip is like a habit-forming narcotic. As we sit at our computers, clicking like rhesus monkeys who have figured out how to amp up the morphine drip, we can self-medicate all day long.

The queen of gossip blogs, Gawker.com, has upped the potency of its product. This month it rolled out an enhanced Gawker Stalker page, which reports celebrity sightings in New York City that are plotted on a map using Google Maps technology. Gawker relies on tips from readers, who e-mail or instant-message their brushes with greatness.

Gawker's editors, Jessica Coen and Jesse Oxfeld, don't get into the messy business of verification.

"Sightings are sent in by readers and fact-checked by no one," Gawker explains on the site. "Some may, yes, be fabricated -- it's up to you to smell a rat."

Gawker's stalkerati last week spotted: Beck, Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz, Dave Mathews, Adam Sandler, Lindsay Lohan, Mandy Moore, Julia Roberts, Tim Russert, John McEnroe, Lenny Kraviz, Vin Diesel with Sammy Sosa, Mark Ruffalo, Howard Stern, Ice-T, Tom Brady, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lenny Kravitz with Harvey Weinstein.

It's one thing to report celebrity sightings, but isn't plotting them on an online map a little too stalker-friendly? Publicists for some stars have complained to the New York tabloids, calling the map feature "over the top."

"As innovative as it might be, it dangerously puts these people in harm's way. Somebody's going to get hurt," publicist Leslie Sloane Zelnik told the New York Daily News. Zelnik represents Lohan, Britney Spears and Ashton Kutcher.

Gawker's editors have been doing the rounds of TV interviews to defend themselves. As they explain the Stalker page: "Mapped pinpoints are posted anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of hours from when readers first send them in, which provides an ample window for celebrities to move about before facing certain death exacted by their violently obsessive fans."

Even without the stalking aspect, Gawker is worth reading for its daily tales humorously told.

On a recent day, Gawker reported: "Madonna maintains youth cred by making obscene gestures in her since-edited music video for 'Sorry.' Alas, flashing all the victory meat in the world can't hide disco crow's feet."

Gawker's editors that same day referred to columnist Liz Smith as an "antediluvian tattler," and reported that the New York York Times was adding to its blog stable because its editors are "all hopped up on bloggy goofballs."

Some other sites for getting your gossip on:

Wesmirch.com: Billing itself as the "automatic dirt digger," besmirch is like an aggregator for gossip news. For the very latest on the marital status of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, this is the place to turn.

Defamer.com: A sister site to Gawker (both are owned by former Financial Times reporter Nick Denton), Defamer casts its snarky eye upon The Industry in Los Angeles.

Gofugyourself.typepad.com: Fug is a contraction for fantastically ugly, and in this care refers to celebrities committing crimes of fashion.

Jossip.com: Sort of a Gawker junior, but even trashier.

Greg Connors' column about Web logs appears every other Monday in The Link, alternating with Karen Robinson's NewsPower column. You may e-mail him at gconnors@buffnews.com.

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