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Hollywood Webmasters Dish On Celebrity Web Sites

Webmasters to celebrities Jeff Bridges, Ben Stein, Harry Shearer, and Lord of The Rings star Ian McKellen reveal that heading off -- or squashing -- tabloid rumors is just as important as SEO, compelling content, and server uptime.

An IT job that involves keeping tabs on Hollywood gossip as much as Web site uptime, search engine optimization keywords, and traffic metrics? That's what Keith Stern has.

As Webmaster to more than 15 official celebrity Web sites, including those of Sir Ian McKellen, Lynn Redgrave, Sean Astin, and Andy Serkis, Stern doesn't keep 9-5 hours, either. Stern's responsibilities include all the ones traditional corporate Webmasters would find in their job descriptions, including designing (and constant redesigning) of the look and feel of the sites; keeping the content fresh and compelling; ensuring that the site is always available; overseeing e-commerce transactions; and monitoring message boards. But he also has to make sure to pick up the latest issue of the Star, the National Enquirer, and other tabloids -- and to keep his cell phone on.

"I have to keep on my toes," said Stern, who is based out of Los Angeles. "Anything that impacts any of my clients, I need to respond to quickly and effectively." He points back to 1999, when McKellen signed up to play both Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and Magneto in X-Men -- moves that both McKellen and Stern realized were potentially controversial. "Fans of the Tolkien books and the Marvel comics had very clear ideas of who those characters were like," said Stern.

Among other things, he said, the Magneto character in the comics was a muscle-bound behemoth. "Which of course isn't Ian at all. And Ian is openly gay and well known for his activism in gay rights. We anticipated a certain amount of homophobic reaction." So Stern was prepared. He had McKellen write an essay for the Web site about what it meant for a gay actor to play Gandalf -- and through the Web site engaged in a dialogue with Rings fans in such a way that "he was able to win people over before they saw the first frame of the movie," said Stern. "Now, of course, no one doubts that it was brilliant casting."

Darya Papazian, the Webmaster for the official sites of actors Eric Roberts and C. Thomas Howell, is constantly monitoring what is being said about her clients in blogs, forums, and articles. If she notices an offensive or untrue statement, she attempts to set the record straight by contributing to the forum, e-mailing the author of the blog or article, or posting a response on the Web sites she manages.

"For example, there was a rumor going around in 2003 that Tommy was a junkie and had contracted AIDS. This was due to him temporarily having a very gaunt appearance due to a nearly fatal bout of appendicitis," said Papazian. "I made sure the explanation was posted not only on our Web site but also on his bio page on the Internet Movie Database."

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