A blind item is a gossip column in which the identities of the people under discussion are obscured, usually with witty clues which readers can untangle. These columns are especially popular in gossip columns about Hollywood celebrities. Many entertainment publications publish a regular blind item column, inviting readers to guess about the subjects and feeding speculation about various celebrities. Some people make their living pursuing these items, digging up trashy information about well-known celebrities and using it to feed interest in gossip magazines and tabloids.
The primary reason to run a bit of juicy gossip as a blind item is because the gossip cannot be confirmed. By publishing a work in this way, the author can protect the publication from legal ramifications, such as a defamation suit from an angered topic. Blind items also pique interest from readers, often garnering much more response than a column in which the identities of the subjects are revealed. Such a column may also be used as a promotional tool, with a publication suggesting that people will find out more if they buy the magazine, or tune in next week for more details.
Blind items are typically very short, and they are often phrased in the form of a question, like: “which carrot-headed celebrity hasn't been going to court-mandated rehab?” They are especially popular on celebrity gossip websites, with readers responding with their guesses in the comments. Reader exchanges can sometimes become quite heated, as people rush to defend particular celebrities or to promote their views. The author usually stays out of the conversation to avoid being accused of specifically confirming or denying a particular theory about the identity of the column's subject.
Sometimes, the information will be verified at a later date by the publication, usually in a longer article. In other cases, the gossip fades away into the background, because it is never verified. Blind items are designed to create brief buzz, and they are quickly superseded by more celebrity gossip in a news cycle which is extremely rapid.
In publications where a blind item column is a well-established tradition, the author often includes clues which reference previous columns or running jokes at the publication. Long-term readers can use these clues to identify the subject of the blind item without too much difficulty, while the item itself remains true to the letter of the law by not explicitly naming anyone.