We The Journalists: Jose Lambiet
When it comes to Gossip in South Florida there’s no one more in the know than Jose Lambiet of Gossip Extra, South Florida’s premier gossip website with the tagline “where today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news!”
By Jason Parsley
Jose Lambiet is a veteran journalist of both mainstream news and gossip. He’s been in the industry since 1986 and has worked for both the Sun Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post and nowadays writes a column for the Miami Herald.
He has a Master’s Degree in journalism from Northwestern University and learned the basics of journalism in Fairbanks, Alaska, and Nashville, Tenn., eventually making his way to New York City to work for the New York Daily News.
His gossip career started in 1998, when he launched South Florida Insider at the Sun Sentinel. Three years later, he moved on to Star magazine and then the National Enquirer. In 2004, he returned to a mainstream newspaper and started Page Two at the Palm Beach Post.
In March 2011 he left to launch his own website, Gossip Extra.
SPJ Florida: So you went from mainstream to gossip to mainstream and now back to gossip. Can’t make up your mind?
Jose Lambiet: Not at all! There is so little difference between the two now that mainstream is gossip, and gossip is mainstream. I approach both the same way, journalism 101: Who, what, went, where, inverted pyramid, the basics. Going back and forth is fairly seamless.
How did you get in the business of gossip and come to love it?
I was at the Sun-Sentinel in 1999 and Ellen Soeteber, who was managing editor, wanted a gossip column that looked and felt like a big city column like in New York and Chicago. The Chicago Tribune’s Inc. was her model but I thought it sucked the big one. So we went with something more Sun-Times like. The goal was for people who read it to feel like we lived in a great big city with many celebs. I put in for with great enthusiasm, and I was the only one who did. After six years in New York, where there were half a dozen competing gossip columns, I figured I’d know how to do it.
A lot of people don’t respect journalists who work at tabloids. What did you learn from working at Star magazine and the National Enquirer. Are there any journalistic standards?
Star and Enquirer were my greatest learning labs. I was pretty decently polished when I got there but I learned to toe the line without getting sued. They had the best reporters and best lawyers, so they came out with things like Rush Limbaugh’s on pills and the presidential-busting Edwards love child. The standards are more geared toward whether something would get them sued and I see nothing wrong with that. The mainstream standards are pretty silly and archaic, like not covering suicides, for example. There’s a great human-interest story behind every suicide. Mainstream needs to take its cues from tabloids, and they’re starting to do that — too late.
What made you decide to launch your own website?
I knew mainstream as we know it was dead when readers decided it’s too boring to justify their time. Anyone can become a publisher with the web. All it takes is a couple bucks and balls. An employer like the Post no longer brings anything to an employee, other than a paycheck. That wasn’t enough to keep my interest. And not only can you be a publisher, but you can go against large corporation like Cox Media. Fun, isn’t it?
What’s been the biggest challenge since launching?
Hiring a competent sales person to go out and sell ads. The demand from advertisers is there. The workforce isn’t. The Republicans are right once a year, but in this they’re right: Too many people are content to sit on their asses instead of going out there and find money. I’ve been reduced to selling my own ads, in addition to posting, because I’ve tried seven people — and none worked out.
What’s a misconception about your job or one part of your job that most folks don’t realize you do?
They think it’s glamorous and all fun. It’s actually hard work in my undies at home and the fun is to get a couple extra hours of sleep.
What are your top 3 biggest scoops or exclusives?
On Gossip Extra: The sexy letter that Allen West wrote his wife (she’s got a certain body-piercing . . . ), something that probably cost him just enough votes in a conservative district to lose; Howard Stern buying a house in Palm Beach; OJ Simpson’s foreclosure
Going in one jump from the Fairbanks Daily New Miner in Alaska to the New York Daily News is probably highlight.
Not standing up to the editors at the Palm Beach Post when they prevented me from going to PBIA to welcome then-U.S. Congressman Tim Mahoney as he returned from D.C. with his mistress; And not standing up to Cox Media Group when they started to cut staff gratuitously at the Post.
Most amusing professional gaffe?
Not realizing that John Travolta swings both ways! I was in Vegas on my first week at Star and I was to interview Travolta in a red carpet situation, and it dawned on me he wanted me to interview him in his room. It was at the Paris resort, so I guess he was “inspired.” Invited me up but I politely declined. I called the desk at Star and asked them if Travolta’s a switch hitter and they laughed at me for weeks. They’d known that for years.
Most frustrating part of your job now? Most fun?
The most frustrating part of my job now is not having a copy editor. Mistakes drive me nuts, especially when I’m the one who makes them. However, nothing beats being your own boss.
Give us your weirdest dues-paying job in your career.
I guess being a sports intern at the ABC TV affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1984 was it. I was in the middle of a real life Ron Bergeron crew, complete with the plaid jackets and everything. Didn’t learn one thing but I edited tons of tapes for the sportscaster. He eventually got fired because he was so bad.
How have you incorporated or utilized social media in your job?
Big time. I post every story on Facebook and Twitter and both have become my major referrals.
One piece of advice you would give journalism students.
Local news as we know it, whether in newspaper or on television, is dead. Whoever will re-invent local news will be rich.
Throughout February, March and April, SPJ Florida will feature Q&As every Friday with Florida’s most prominent journalists. Want to see someone featured? Want to conduct your own Q&A? Want to join SPJ? Email us.
Jason Parsley is President of SPJ Florida. Follow him on Twitter.