For Allie Jones, It's Always Gossip Time Somewhere
If “pivot to video” was the media trend of 2015, 2020’s is “pivot to Substack.” Over the past 10 months, more and more writers have launched newsletters as side hustles to traditional staff roles and freelance gigs or gone solo completely, taking advantage of Substack’s paid subscription tiers to support themselves on their own terms. Allie Jones? She just wanted her own space to talk about Hilary Duff.
The Gawker veteran, who went on to be a senior writer at The Cut before leaving to freelance in 2018, recently launched Gossip Time, a totally free newsletter that gives readers a weekly dose of pop culture through Jones’s particularly playful lens. For those who haven’t been with her since her days invoicing brands for unsolicited sponsored posts, it may seem like just another pop culture digest. However, Jones has a talent for expertly dissecting even the most convoluted tabloid story with rigor and humor, and her Friday afternoon missives have become the rare news roundup I don’t have to steel myself to open.
Ahead, we spoke about how she made gossip her job and the ways this new digital era is changing tabloid news.
How did you get on the celebrity gossip beat?
When I first started my career, I was covering politics, and that's what I was doing when I started at Gawker. I've always been obsessed with celebrity and I started writing little blog posts about whatever Blake Lively was doing. I just started to get more interested in actually how celebrities were presenting themselves, not only on social media, but also through the tabloids and kind of looking at it through a media lens.
What made you decide to go freelance?
I think the way the media landscape is now, if you want to write about a lot of different things, it's hard to move up. I just wanted more flexibility to work on longer projects as well, and when you're working for a site where traffic is a huge priority, which is every site, that can become your whole day.
Coming from a traffic-focused background, what has the adjustment been like to being in charge of your own goals?
I love it so far, especially because I don't really have any aspirations to make it this huge thing. What's really nice about Substack that I just noticed is they have a leaderboard, but it's really not that easy to navigate from newsletter to newsletter. Because of that, I don't really feel that there's much of a sense of competition.
It's also really nice to be writing for an audience that has actually signed up to read what you've written. I've never had that experience before. Even just small things that are different, like, I've been releasing them on Fridays, which if I was on staff and doing this for a website, you typically don't want to write something on a Friday afternoon because of traffic concerns. And I don't have to worry about the headline playing to Google or Facebook or whatever it would be.
Do you think you’ll ever move to a paid subscription?
I would love to make money doing it if that's possible, but I don't really have a short term goal to do that. Obviously I'm not ahead of the curve here. So many people turn to newsletters and seem like they are making money at it and are successful. Down the line, of course it would be great.
How has the pandemic changed celebrity gossip?
In March and April it was obviously very much about celebrities creating content from their homes, which can get tiresome. Although I would say January Jones is the exception. She's clearly still taking precautions and still kind of stuck in her home and producing great things on Instagram. But now it's actually—I wouldn't say back to normal, but obviously shows and movies are going into production again. I think celebrities are also experiencing the pandemic in a much different way than, like, you or I would. They are socializing more now. Like I just wrote about Dominic West [who] flew to Rome with Lily James [seemingly] just for social reasons and that's such an old-school tabloid scandal. So I do think some of that is coming back.
How do you stay on top of all the gossip and decide which stories you’ll cover?
I keep a running Google Doc and drop links in there throughout the week. I will screenshot things on Instagram if it's like, Oh, that's interesting that this person is with that person. But what really interests me is: There is the narrative that a celebrity is putting out there through their publicists, certain sources are leaking things to People or Us Weekly, and then there's what is actually happening. And if anytime that I can point out that there is a discrepancy there, that's what I think is really fun to talk about.
Do you have any rules or boundaries about which stories you highlight?
I think there are a lot of sad stories out there. In terms of what I want to do with the newsletter, I think about what I would want to read about. I think sometimes you don't need to cover every single thing, which is great. You can just pick what you think is fun and funny.