For a time, one staff writer said recently, the Hollywood Reporter "was a stagnant place to work ... there just was not a lot of internal movement."
That has certainly changed.
As the entertainment world heads into its annual winter frenzy of awards shows, the 75-year-old Hollywood Reporter has cut 10 positions, including editorial director Howard Burns, as part of what publisher John Kilcullen described as "a significant transformation."
Seven of the cuts were from the editorial side of the trade publication; three from the business side. Several lower-level editors received promotions and reassignments in the shuffle.
Kilcullen has been at the Hollywood Reporter only since October, when he moved over from sister publication Billboard to replace Tony Uphoff, who had succeeded longtime editor and publisher Robert J. Dowling only a year earlier.
Kilcullen said in a prepared statement last week that the paper was reorganizing its film group, centralizing its marketing, operations and other divisions, and taking additional steps in "strengthening our brands and services online" while trying to add revenue through "conferences, and international expansion."
Yet insiders say the cuts likely have more to do with the new owners of VNU, the paper's parent, wanting to shave costs. The Dutch-based publishing and information giant was bought for nearly $10 billion in late spring by Valcon Acquisition BV, a consortium of six equity firms, including the Carlyle Group, the Blackstone Group and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
Phone messages seeking interviews with editors were referred to a public relations agency, which said no one would be available. Given the layoffs, the few writers willing to talk asked not to be identified.
"About five months after they [the new owners] announce nothing really will be substantially changed, everything does," one writer said.
Burns declined to comment about what led to his departure. Insiders believe the cuts were not likely to affect the publication's symbiotic relationship with Hollywood and the TV industry -- or its competition with Variety, the town's larger trade publication.
Writers described the paper as being adrift editorially over the last couple of years, reacting to events rather than breaking news itself, and that the changes could signal a sharpened focus. They noted that the cut positions were largely internal, and not reporters who deal directly with entertainment world sources and stories.
"Hopefully, we'll stay as competitive as we can," one of the staffers said. "Ultimately, it does boil down to content."
The dismissals came after other belt-tightening at the Hollywood Reporter, including suspending freelance fees to staffers who file extra articles for special issues, and a cut in the number of freelance articles and reviews the paper commissions.
Exactly what VNU, which went private this summer after the buyout, ultimately has in mind for the paper remained under wraps.
"I have friends over there, but I don't know that anyone is completely sure what's going on," Dowling said.