BY TE-ERIKA PATTERSON
The Miami Herald
Controversial- Mediatakout.com feeds the public's hunger for news about black celebrities- and fills a void left by other gossip sites.
Radio personality Supa Cindy bursts into fits oflaughter as she reads theheadlines from her favoritegossip website, MediaTakeOut.com.
"I am hooked and addictedto this website," laughs Supa of South Florida's WEDR-FM (99.1).
She's not alone. The African-American celebrity gossip site has skyrocketed in popularity since its inception in January 2006, when founder and executive editor Fred Mwangaguhunga noticed that African-American celebrities were largely ignored by more mainstream celebrity gossip sites, such as TMZ.com and PerezHilton.com.
Mwangaguhunga, a former lawyer, claims his MediaTakeOut.com -- MTO for short-- now attracts nearly 2 million unique visitors each day, feeding viewers' desire for off-collar jokes and salacious rumors that poke fun at celebrities like rappers Trina and Lil Wayne, as well as actress Gabrielle Union, who is often photographed partying in South Beach clubs.
The tabloid-style site has its share of detractors. Critics have accused it of fabricating stories and padding the number of hits reported. But to some, the controversy is part of the appeal.
Affectionately known as''The Skirt with the Dirt,"Supa Cindy lists MTO as her No. 1 source for the gossip she dishes as co-hostof "The Big Lip Bandit Morn-ing Show."
"I like MediaTakeOutbecause it's outrageous!'' Supa says. "Sometimes they report something that I don't personally think is true, but I will report it and then say,'You can believe it or not.'The fun part is waiting a few days for [other media outlets]to report it and then seeing if it's really true."
MTO's popularity stems from its controversial "exclusives." The website claimed to be the first to report Tameka Foster's pregnancy from R&B star Usher, as well as entertainment mogul Did-dy's secret love child. Its sto-ries are often quoted and crit-icized by MTV News, BET and syndicated radio personalities Wendy Williams and Tom Joyner.
"I think people are drawn to websites like MediaTakeOut because the publicists and television make celebrities out to be perfect," Supa says.
"Fans want to know that even stars go through negative things and everyday drama just like they do."
Before he became an Internet entrepreneur, Mwangaguhunga, 33, was a corporate attorney on Wall Street. He then tried his hand as a business owner before selling off his Manhattan-based laundry service. While advertising for his laundry business, Mwangaguhunga advertised on blogs. When he noticed how well the blogs were doing financially, he decided it was time to join them.
SMALL OFFICE, BIG NAME
Mwangaguhunga was recently named one of the''100 Giants'' in the world of entertainment by the urban music magazine Giant, a list that included Kanye West and Oprah Winfrey.
MediaTakeOut doesn't employ a large staff. Apart from Mwangaguhunga, there are only two full-time employees in the downtown Manhattan office space, neither of which are professional journalists. But Mwangaguhunga says he doesn't need aroom full of reporters.
"What we do have are the people," he says.
The website relies heavily on tips sent in by readers, many of whom claim to have the inside scoop on celebrities personal escapades. The regular use of unnamed sources has spawned criti-cism from other gossip site owners, journalists and celebrities who say the reportsare inaccurate and fabricated.
Mwangaguhunga counters that the stories on MTO are''100 percent true." He says the site goes to great lengths to ensure the accuracy of its reports and has even even hired private investigators to verify stories.
EVERYBODY LIKES TO WATCH
If its viewership of 2 millionis accurate, MTO's audience is larger than many popular mainstream websites, as well as respected sites that target African Americans, such asEssence.com, AOL's Black-voices.com and BlackAmericaWeb.com. Some may wonder why there is such amassive following for a website that runs headlines like "Rapper Lil Wayne Behind 4 Months On His Car Payment'' and "Jennifer Aniston Picks the Wedgie Out of Her Booty."
"Well, why do people read The National Enquirer? Why do they read The Sun or any of those other tabloids?" says Richard Prince, author of the online media column "Prince's Journal-isms'' for the Maynard Institute. "It's the human impulse for gossip."
Prince says MTO is full of "hype and exaggeration''and should not be compared to traditional news and entertainment sources.
"It's like asking, 'What's the difference between People magazine and the National Enquirer?' '' Prince says.
Mirlande Noel, 23, of Miami has her own take on why there's widespread fascination with MTO.
"Each of those publications and websites caters to a specific audience," Noel says.''Essence.com caters to amore sophisticated Black reader, BlackAmericaWeb.com has a more mature, educated audience, and Mediatakeout.com's stories attract an audience where, regardless of your education or your socio-economical background, they communicate in a way that all of us can relate to. Regardless of how educated we are, or how much money we have in our pockets, at the end of the day, we can all pull out that 'sistergirl' and laugh at these kind of stories."