A Gossip Site Finds Its Niche

August 11th, 2013

By 3 a.m. at the latest, Fred Mwangaguhunga is awake and trolling for gossip.

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Fred Mwangaguhunga runs Mediatakeout.com, which has attracted a large and loyal following.

While his wife and 3-year-old triplets sleep soundly, Mr. Mwangaguhunga is at his computer in his spacious TriBeCa loft, scanning photographs taken only hours earlier by paparazzi in the bars and clubs frequented by musicians, sports stars and actors. He is looking for missing wedding rings, emerging baby bumps, fresh bruises or any telling sign that will make a story.

He then sorts through dozens of e-mail tips that have come in during the wee hours, offering information on everyone from Justin Bieber to the Atlanta “Housewives.”

The lanky Mr. Mwangaguhunga (mah-WON-gah-goo-HOON-gah) is neither an obsessed fan nor a celebrity stalker; he owns and runs the Web site Mediatakeout.com, and he bills it as one of the most highly trafficked African-American-centric gossip sites in the world.

His business philosophy is to give his audience what it craves: unvarnished tidbits on celebrities of interest to minorities who are passed over by more mainstream gossip outlets like People and Us.

By 4 a.m. he has sent e-mails to his five employees, dividing the tasks of writing the day’s dozen or so eye-catching and excessively punctuated headlines (almost every one begins along the lines of “Amazing MTO World Exclusive!!!!!”), checking out tips and writing pithy, humorous prose to accompany the headlines. (While Mediatakeout started as an aggregator, it now reports and writes many of its articles, although these are rarely longer than three terse paragraphs and are often simply lengthy captions.)

Most tips won’t pan out, but a handful do. Mr. Mwangaguhunga takes credit for (though it is difficult to verify) being the first to report Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy and Nicki Minaj’s hiring as a judge for “American Idol.” Last month the site reported the engagement of the professional basketball star Kevin Durant (along with picture of his fianc?e, Monica Wright). There is also no lack of gossipy speculation. This strategy has built Mediatakeout a loyal and growing audience. According to Google analytics data provided by Mr. Mwangaguhunga, the site gets 16.3 million viewers a month.

Mr. Mwangaguhunga cited another metric, however, that he thinks is more telling: 46 percent of his visitors, about 7.5 million people, are black women, a number that represents broad penetration into that market. His next biggest group, according to Google Analytics and a pop-up survey given to site visitors, is black men, at nearly 30 percent, then white women at 7.5 percent.

“He is more powerful and has more influence than every other urban site,” said Marvet Britto, who runs the Britto Agency, a public affairs and branding company that once represented Mediatakeout and has represented stars like Angela Bassett and Kim Cattrall.

She said that over time she has seen Mediatakeout’s influence grow as its articles have been picked up by television and other mainstream outlets that don’t typically follow such reports. “Often producers from various networks would call me about offering my insights on a segment and their source was Mediatakeout,” she said, “which indicates to me the vast reach” of the site.

At nearly 6-feet-2 and wearing Spike Lee-style glasses, Mr. Mwangaguhunga hardly looks the part of a star maker. He rarely attends parties and prefers to relax at his neighborhood cigar bar or at his house in Southampton, N.Y., on the weekends.

“It is not about making me a celebrity — although I could probably be really good friends with all of them,” Mr. Mwangaguhunga said. Instead he prefers to keep his distance so he can keep his independence. “Folks will offer me cash to place a story,” he said, “but that is absolutely not the way we do it.”

Mr. Mwangaguhunga, 39, was raised in Queens Village by parents who immigrated from Uganda. He attended John Jay College and then Columbia Law School, and after graduating in 2001 he practiced corporate tax law at the firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton for three years.

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