A quartet of Hollywood old hands — Patrick Goldstein and John Horn of the LAT and Sharon Waxman and Laura Holson of the NYT — agreed last night at Zócalo's event downtown that blogs and the Internet have sped up the entertainment news cycle, that the New Yorkers won the Pellicano story and that The Envelope and other naked grabs for Oscar ads are an unfortunate trend. The panel's disdain for The Envelope, especially Goldstein's remarks that "this whole mania of covering the Oscars is out of control...it's revolting," had to sting LAT executives in the audience: John O'Loughlin, Senior Vice President for Marketing, Planning and Development and Lynne Segall, the VP for entertainment advertising. The Envelope is their baby. It appears to be working as an ad vehicle, incidentally, despite the editorial side's complaints that the paper should cover movies better and do interesting film stories rather than hype awards shows. The panelists agreed, though, that anything that sells ads is here to stay. "None of us can afford these days to be high and mighty," Waxman said.
There was an interesting difference of opinion over David Geffen. The LAT men agreed that Geffen might be the best buyer for the Times,
with Goldstein offering that "this is a man who has always been associated with quality work." Waxman pushed back, arguing that Geffen is a man Hollywood fears: "He holds a grudge. He gets even." Goldstein stuck to his guns, even though he acknowledged that Geffen once went five years without talking to him and "can put a lot of negative energy into people." Waxman concluded that the LAT staff is so battered by years of Tribune Company mishandling that they are looking for a knight: "They'll take a flawed knight."
Horn, by the way, said that "Tribune seems to believe they can cut their way to excellence" and likened the company's approach to GM deciding that the best response to competition from Toyota was to "make a worse car." More tidbits from my notebook:
- On competing for stories: Horn says "If we hear the New York Times is doing a story, we either want to do it first or pass." Holson: "You want to be the leader. You don't want to be the follower."
- Horn: "I don't look at the trades as competition. They don't break many stories."
- Goldstein: "It is almost impossible to beat the Internet at straight news" — arguing for newspapers to push depth and analysis on the Hollywood beat.
- Waxman: "They (NYT editors) really like when we write stories that describe L.A. and Hollywood as a foreign place."
- Horn says the LAT cannot compete anymore with magazines and websites on celebrity news and personality profiles. Waxman agrees for the NYT: "That form is dead. We hardly do them anymore."
- Goldstein: "If you really want information in Hollywood you go have lunch with agents. They are collectors of early breaking information."
- On Pellicano, Horn said "The New York Times kicked our ass on that story. David Halbfinger and Allison Hope Weiner did incredible enterprise reporting."
- Goldstein on LATimes.com: "I don't think it's any secret that we have a lot of issues. I think our website has a long way to go." (Goldstein was a member of the Spring Street Project that recommended big-time investment and changes in the website.)
- Horn: "I think Los Angeles Times film coverage is far superior to the New York Times."
Horn also said that LAT editors have asked film writers to start taking digital video cameras to interviews with filmmakers, which met with laughs from the panel — which agreed that almost no one in Hollywood will consent to be taped without makeup, lighting and probably a publicist nearby.