Patrick Goldstein, the longtime Hollywood watcher for the LA Times and others, has a good feature piece in Los Angeles Magazine on the current state of the four main movie biz trades. He spends a lot of time, as he must, on Nikki Finke and the changes she forced on the Hollyood journalism game. Along with Goldstein's analysis is a pretty amazing disclosure: that the reclusive Finke to this day has never met Jay Penske, the millionaire who acquired her website, Deadline.com. (The recent and many would say inevitable Penske-Finke break up came just as the story was going to press.) Finke, writes Goldstein, spends most of her time in Hawaii.
If you are at all into the Hollywood media sphere or interested in the principals such as Finke, Janice Min and Sharon Waxman, this is a piece for you. Goldstein makes the case that the trade websites like Deadline and The Wrap are much more driven by the lust to be first by a minute and to make a profit than by any journalistic need to be right. As a Hollywood reporter himself who has worked with or against (or has taken job meetings with) the players, Goldstein's disclosures of the unavoidable conflicts — "my own tangled history with everyone involved" — are interesting. I'm glad the magazine put a veteran Hollywood hand on this story, conflicts and all, over an uninvolved outsider. It's not like the involved players are any purer.
This is the story of how two once-thriving trade papers became the showbiz equivalent of Pravda and Izvestia, sclerotic mouthpieces for the studio party line: outdated, rigid, stuck in their ways. It is the story of the woman, Finke, who bested them, at least for a while, and who forced them to reinvent themselves. It is the story of how Finke’s site prompted a copycat site, TheWrap.com, and how that start-up’s founder, Sharon Waxman, tried to muscle her way into prominence. It is a story about an ongoing contest between dead-tree media and the kind that gets traffic. But at its core, this is a story about journalism in trouble. Because while it may seem difficult at first to ignore media outlets that regularly call one another pieces of crap, it gets easier day by day.
Before taking a buyout last year, I spent decades writing about music, pop culture, and the movie business for the Los Angeles Times, with my last dozen years devoted to writing a column called The Big Picture. I knew [THR publisher Lynne] Segall when she oversaw the Times’s lucrative Envelope awards section. She would shoot me exasperated e-mails whenever I’d ridicule Hollywood’s endless fascination with the Oscars. Most of her missives would begin with “Why do you have to be so-o-o-o-o-o negative?”
I first met Waxman when she was a Washington Post reporter and wrote what was perhaps the most devastating exposé ever of the hapless Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group behind the Golden Globes. Since she left The New York Times to found The Wrap, she’s talked to me about writing for her (I haven’t). In 2010, when I was still at the Times, Janice Min, the new editorial director of THR, offered me a job just before she put out her first issue. After I’d left the Times, she had her managing editor ask me to write about DreamWorks Animation’s new deal at Fox. I passed only to find out later that DreamWorks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg himself had suggested me to Min. The only one of the four that hasn’t made a professional overture to me (or I to them) is Variety, which has taken more than a few potshots at me—and I’ll admit I’ve given as good as I’ve gotten. When the trade was being shopped around in the summer of 2012, I called it a “rusty relic” in print. Since then much has changed for the better, including the arrival of Eller as co-editor. She, too, was a colleague of mine at the Times, where she often scored more scoops in six months than most reporters do in a lifetime.
Finke and I have been friendly for years. In fact, when I got a job offer from Time magazine in 2007, she played the role of consigliere, advising me on how to negotiate a nice raise to stay at the Times. But when her Deadline site took off later that year during the Writers Guild of America strike, we had a falling-out. I’d been a staunch supporter of the WGA. Because Finke had built her traffic in part by painting every media outlet but her own—especially the trades and the L.A. Times—as tools of the studio bosses, she was invested in proving herself right. After I wrote a column advising the WGA not to boycott the upcoming Grammy Awards, she pounced, labeling it a “venomous screed” against the writers when it was anything but. We barely spoke until I left the Times, when she did an about-face and glowingly described my work as “thoughtful, knowledgeable and deeply sourced.” I figured that could mean only one thing: She wanted to hire me. She’s made me several job offers since, but nothing concrete ever materialized.
Goldstein says that "of all the combatants in the trade wars, Finke is the most notorious—and, oddly, the least understood. She loathes her image as a cranky recluse, though it is well earned." I come away thinking that I would not be surprised, in the long run, if Deadline and The Wrap (along with whatever Finke comes up with hoping to prove she's still a force to be feared) flame out and that Variety and the Hollywood Reporter are the last players standing. Just because they seem to be playing the long game a little more and not living from one trivial exclusive to another.
Credit Janice Min, who reinvented THR, with one of the best quotes in the piece, describing what the trades were like before all this: "America’s most exciting industry being covered in the least interesting way by the world’s worst media."
Finke, by the way, retweeted Goldstein's teasers about the piece before seeing it, but afterward she dismissed it to her followers:
Patrick Goldstein failed to accurately characterize me, my journalism, and what I've accomplished. Instead, he trivialized all. Ignore.— Nikki Finke (@NikkiFinke) November 21, 2013
Graphic in Los Angeles Magazine/Antony Hare