David Poland of Movie City News takes off from the news that Variety is for sale to put in a bit of jaded perspective the four media outlets he says function as the closest thing Hollywood has to trade publications: Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, Nikki Finke's Deadline.com and Sharon Waxman's The Wrap. "Oh, it’s funny how things change," he begins.
Five years ago, he notes, THR was almost dead and Variety was "going in for the kill." Then Waxman got funding to start The Wrap. Three months later Finke found a buyer for her blog and hired key people away from Variety. Then Variety put up a pay wall, Janice Min took over the Reporter, a lot more reporters changed jobs and ads disappeared, and now Variety is for sale with its future uncertain.
Poland says that essentially they are competing to dutifully re-publish whatever information a flack or other vested interest wants out. And it no longer matters who's first, because the other outlets all just re-post it within minutes. The planting sources get what they want and don't care where it appears. But is it news? (Ellipses below are all his.)
The evolution of the last three years brought the dirty secret of the trades to light. As competitive and intricate as the work of operating a news room that was also in the daily business of timing the news to fit the needs of sources, there wasn’t a lot of serious journalism going on at the trades. And there was very little news being broken in the entertainment business. 90%+ of what was/is being printed is not a matter of ferreting out information, but having a source with a vested interest choosing one outlet or reporter over another with whom to break the news.
The bottom line remains… none of these businesses are very good businesses. Nikki claims profitability, but people paying for her ad space have added up the numbers they know and looked at what she’s paying writers, and come up with red ink. The Reporter continues to be plagued with rumors that they are running a deficit. No one seems to know how The Wrap continues on, though they did a low-dollar deal with Reuters that no one else wanted and that has raised profile… and agita around Reuters, which has to deal with the errors that get run. And now, Variety is going to go to the bidder… maybe one of those guys on “Storage Wars.”
The bottom line is that journalism – even trade journalism – has been diminished in this era. Finke has no interest in actual journalism and her fake honesty is more dangerous than simply being an easy placement (which is one reason why she is a good person with whom to place stuff). Waxman still doesn’t understand much of anything about the industry and has pissed off a shocking number of people who used to support her in concept (though she has turned out to be a good VC wrangler… she should move forward in that career)… The Hollywood Reporter can’t afford to be a trade much longer… and Variety is a dinosaur, any way you cut it.
And the LA Times, which endeavors to be a player in Hollywood news? "[The LAT] has fallen back from the old days… but has got some strong writers who are still worth reading… more so than many of those mentioned above," Poland says. "But now they have a paywall and that will strangle their best writers in a matter of months. Again… even when they have it first or even best, it will soon be in the New York Times and THR and Deadline and all over the damned place if anyone cares."