Ugandan in USA owns “Media Take Out” worlds most visited website
Media Take Out is a blog-style gossip website catering to people that are interested in drama. It claims to be "The Most Visited Urban Website in the World" and has an Alexa ranking of 1,477 as of October 26, 2010.
The website was founded by Fred Mwangaguhunga, a former corporate lawyer. Mwangaguhunga was born to Ugandan parents in Washington, D.C., is a graduate of John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, and received two degrees from Columbia University.
Exclusives have been quoted by BET Style, MTV News, the Page Six column of the New York Post, and by radio personalities including Wendy Williams, Howard Stern, and Tom Joyner. Media Take Out claims to have broken several stories, including Remy Ma's criminal charges and Michael Jordan's divorce. Mwangaguhunga has stated, "we get 90% of our stories from insiders looking to spill the beans like hairstylists, bodyguards or bitter ex-girlfriends".
A Gossip Site Finds Its Niche
By 3 a.m. at the latest, Fred Mwangaguhunga is awake and trolling for gossip.
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 fiancée, 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.
But his passion was entrepreneurship. He created a high-end laundry service that picked up and delivered clean clothes across New York City as a sort of worker’s luxury. He called it the Laundry Spa and came up with a catchy tag line, urging consumers to “pamper” their clothes.
He advertised online, but when that became too expensive for him, he decided he was in the wrong business.
He sold the Laundry Spa for a substantial profit, he said, and started Mediatakeout.com in 2006. His idea was to feature links to all sorts of reports. But over time he found his audience overwhelmingly clicked on gossip about black celebrities and celebrities who had racial crossover appeal, like Kim Kardashian. He realized he had stumbled into a niche that had virtually been ignored by other Internet sites.
“There is so much drama with black people that doesn’t get covered,” said Allison Samuels, who is African-American and has reported on the entertainment industry for Newsweek for two decades.
“People covers four black people: Beyoncé, Rihanna and Jay Z and Kanye,” she said, referring to those popular singers. “I want to know what other actresses are wearing and who they are dating. Fred was smart to realize the hole and get in there and capitalize.”
(Mr. Mwangaguhunga considers his biggest competitor to be TMZ, which also closely covers the same sort of celebrities. Essence and Jet, established magazines aimed at African-Americans, have lagged online.)
Mr. Mwangaguhunga admires what he calls the consistency and straightforward nature of the online Drudge Report, so he has kept the style of his site bare-bones but predictable and accessible, like the Drudge site.
On an average day Mediatakeout consists of one lead story with a large picture and a dozen other screaming headlines (often in fire-truck red) crying out to be clicked. A recent example: “SHOCK REPORT: Will Smith Is Spotted SPITTING GAME In Kelly Rowland’s Ear … Do You Think He SMASHED????” It attracted nearly 40,000 clicks.
The content is straight-up gossip about famous people and their foibles, but delivered with an understanding that none of it is too serious. “Taking people we all know and love, wrapping it up in humor and giving you scoops,” he said. “That is the secret sauce.”
As a private business owner, Mr. Mwangaguhunga declined to discuss the site’s financial performance except to say it is a multimillion-dollar business. His site features ads from a broad range of marketers, including banner ads from retailers like Anthropologie and Eddie Bauer, and low-end ads as well. He makes enough to pay full-time salaries to his five employees and contract out for services like advertising and technical maintenance.
His next step, he hopes, will be to expand into video and television. He wants to produce three shows for the site, including a scripted soap opera, an African-American-focused news program and a reality show that covers the wives and significant others of professional athletes.
He also wants to partner with a TV network to create an “Entertainment Tonight”-type show for a black audience. “We will be there by the end of the year,” he said, “and we will be big.”