Show business news coverage gets a new act
On the Thursday before the Academy Awards last March, Morgan Freeman, Eva Longoria Parker and Ryan Seacrest mixed with well-known show business executives such as former NBC co-Chairman Ben Silverman at the home of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The occasion was a party thrown by the Hollywood Reporter, an 80-year-old trade newspaper that covers insider entertainment news for industry professionals.
One attendee was distinctly unimpressed by the event: Richard Beckman, the new chief executive of the Reporter’s parent company, derided the party in front of staffers because it lacked the glamour and A-list attendees he expected.
“I was used to the Vanity Fair Oscars party,” Beckman later said, referring to the lavish annual event thrown by his former employer, magazine conglomerate Conde Nast. “I thought it could have been a lot better.”
Beckman thinks a lot of things about the Hollywood Reporter could be better. Since the private-equity-backed firm he leads acquired it and six sister publications for about $75 million in December, the longtime No. 2 show business paper — behind Daily Variety — has been completely revamped. Former Us Weekly editor Janice Min was named editorial director, the staff has grown 50% to about 100 and next week the Reporter will replace its daily paper with a weekly glossy magazine. It’s aimed at a wider swath of professionals interested in entertainment and intended to draw luxury advertisers that hope to reach them.
The Reporter’s revamp carries many risks, most notably launching a costly new publication in a tough market for print media that is just starting to show signs of recovery. And it comes at a time when the landscape for entertainment news is changing dramatically. Deadline.com, for instance, has grown from a blog run by journalist Nikki Finke into an online show business trade that will soon publish several print editions for Hollywood’s awards season.
“What’s happening is a result of the fact that the trades were a victim of their own neglect,” said Min, who works in an undecorated office off the Reporter’s newsroom in the Mid-Wilshire district. “It has been an industry press not commensurate in stature to the industry itself.”
The changes at the Hollywood Reporter and Deadline.com reflect broader fundamental shifts in how a deal-hungry entertainment industry gets its news, where a nugget of information can affect the business fate of a star, movie or TV show. Many readers, particularly in headline-driven businesses such as film and television, are turning to the Internet for news as it breaks instead of waiting for print. The Reporter’s average daily paid circulation declined from 29,193 in 2005 to less than 20,000 in 2008, the last year in which the Audit Bureau of Circulation collected data.
Online ad rates are lower than print, however, making it difficult for papers to shift to the Web without downsizing. Deadline.com has only seven editorial employees, compared with more than 40 for the Reporter.
“You cannot any longer run a significant news operation in a narrow niche and support the size newsroom that the Hollywood Reporter had,” said Ken Sonenclar, managing director at the media investment banking firm DeSilva & Phillips.
Nielsen Media, former owner of the Reporter, responded with five rounds of layoffs to cut costs. But Beckman’s firm, Prometheus Global Media, has spent millions on hires and launching the magazine.
“We want to develop the brand and raise the quality, so we have made a significant investment beyond the acquisition,” Beckman said.
Readers will see the results next week when 72,000 copies of the magazine are distributed in cities including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Miami. Min promises that it will put show business news in a context that gives it “bounce” with the outside world.
The new Reporter is not the first effort at taking a Hollywood publication to a larger audience. Variety in 2003 launched a glossy monthly magazine called V Life. It was canceled two years later.
Since Min joined in July, the Reporter has been more aggressive in its news coverage, which will continue online and in an e-mail newsletter. Among the big stories it has been in front of are media mogul Barry Diller’s surprise exit from the board of concert giant Live Nation and Anderson Cooper’s new talk show.
Along with business scoops, the Reporter has also ramped up celebrity lifestyle news, sometimes based on reports in other publications like TMZ or the New York Post. Recent celebrity stories include the death of reality star Heidi Montag’s plastic surgeon and how “Glee” actress Lea Michele “narrowly avoided” a car accident on the way to an event sponsored by the Reporter.
Min denied that the change in coverage was a result of her history at Us Weekly and said her standard was that there be a “legal component” to a celebrity story such as a divorce or lawsuit.
“Talent is a significant component of this industry,” Min said. “I don’t think any of these stories take a big dive into the world of celebrity.”
As the Reporter goes after a larger audience, it faces increased competition on its traditional turf. Several websites, such as Deadline.com and TheWrap.com, now compete for industry news even as the major movie studios are contracting amid economic and technological challenges.
“The fascination with celebrity has been extending to those beyond the scenes in Hollywood for a while,” producer J.C. Spink said. “But it’s ironic that it’s continuing even while our industry has in some ways been struggling.”
Since budding online media mogul Jay Penske’s firm bought Deadline.com for several million dollars last year, the site has recruited reporters from Variety, the Reporter and the Los Angeles Times and expanded its coverage of industry minutiae such as script deals and casting announcements.
With its new print newsletters, Deadline is seeking to cut into what has traditionally been the Hollywood trades’ largest source of revenue: ads aimed at voters for the Oscars and other film awards.
“We’re finding success by breaking news without the swollen staff and costs of the existing trades,” Penske said. “Now we have many extensions planned for the Deadline brand.”
Penske is also investing in a trio of consumer-oriented entertainment websites, including a new one focused on television headed by former Entertainment Weekly writer Michael Ausiello.
As more media outlets fight for Hollywood’s ad dollars, scoops and readers, behind-the-scenes mudslinging between them has grown fierce. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that after nearly a century of little change, show business news is due for a new act.
Min said that’s exactly what she had in mind: “Mistakes in media are often made when you focus on small improvements to a model that fundamentally doesn’t have its mojo anymore.”