The Associated Press is planning to hire 21 people in Los Angeles, New York and London to cover celebrity news for the wire service's new entertainment group. An AP exec admitted in an internal memo, obtained by Hollywood rabble rouser Nikki Finke, that the move is basically a ploy for cash, but insisted the AP will distinguish itself from rabble like TMZ and OK! by verifying or disproving rumors. It's hard to see how the wire will pull that off: Hollywood publicists are notorious liars, the stars themselves are impossible to reach and sources who actually know what they're talking about tend to ask for a monetary payoff if they speak at all. But the AP will try, not so valiantly, because there are hundreds of millions of dollars to be made. Here is AP lifer Daniel Becker, left, talking about raking in celebrity news bucks out of one side of his mouth and spouting platitudes about journalistic integrity out of the other:

There is overwhelming demand from customers and members for coverage of celebrity, movies and music. According to PQ Media, the market for outsourced entertainment news content is set to rise by 77% by 2011 to $960 million. So, increasing our entertainment coverage provides an opportunity to give them more of the content they want and to increase revenue at the same time...

The entertainment vertical is not about gossip, unnamed sources and innuendo or about "peephole" journalism with AP photographers becoming paparazzi. It's about recognizing an opportunity to use our journalistic talent and unmatched network of resources to produce high quality, multimedia coverage in an area of growing interest. AP's high editorial standards and news values will continue to be observed, honored and practiced. That makes good business sense, too: In a realm in which gossip and innuendo abound, particularly on the Web, our standards establish us as the trusted, authoritative voice on entertainment for all our members and customers.

Becker is almost certainly overestimating the value of trust in celebrity news. Accuracy offers precious little glory in a coverage area where consumers value speed and salaciousness first. Perez Hilton's celebrity news brand seems stronger now than ever, and he erroneously reported the death of Fidel Castro seven months ago.

Declining to offer "gossip, unnamed sources and innuendo" in celebrity news is like writing about sports without talking about the score or about business without dollar figures. Plus it's just boring, and there's no $1 billion market for this type of boring.

[Deadline Hollywood]