The Hollywood Reporter’s editorial director, Matthew Belloni, is stepping down from his role after nearly four years, a surprise departure that followed sharp disagreements with the publication’s owners over its editorial independence.
Belloni, a former attorney, had worked for the entertainment industry publication for 14 years. He will stay on as an editorial consultant for a month.
“We respect and like Matt a great deal,” Modi Wiczyk and Asif Satchu, co-CEOs of Valence Media, the Hollywood Reporter’s parent company, told the publication. “It has been enjoyable to work together, and we greatly admire his commitment to impactful journalism. He has pushed the team to hold itself to a high standard, and we are proud of the work he and the entire editorial group have done these past years.”
The publication said no successor to Belloni has been named.
Belloni, 43, had served in a variety of editing roles at THR and became its top editor in 2017. He was part of the leadership that saw the Hollywood Reporter transition from a daily trade newspaper to a weekly magazine with a large digital presence. In February, the Hollywood Reporter had 25 million unique visitors, the publication said, citing Comscore data.
Belloni’s exit follows sharp disagreements over the editorial direction of the publication that had been building up in recent months.
Belloni did not respond to a request for comment, but in a memo to staff he referenced disagreements with his bosses.
“Today’s announcement is the result of a series of conversations I’ve had for a few months with Modi about the direction at THR,” Belloni wrote in his note. “Some may want to read into that, but I’ll just say that well-meaning, diligent, ambitious people can disagree about fundamental priorities and strategies.”
He called his exit “100% amicable.”
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The abrupt announcement comes after Valence Media, the Hollywood Reporter’s parent company, had been working with the Poynter Institute for the last 18 months over how to maintain editorial independence and provide ethics training.
Prior to Valence’s work with Poynter, the company had established journalistic standards but not a written ethics policy, said Kelly McBride, a senior vice president at Poynter.
McBride said she did not think Belloni’s exit was related to her work, which is intended to “help people envision processes that navigate the conflicts of interest that they face.”
Trade rival Variety reported that Belloni balked at demands from Wiczyk and Satchu to compile a list of people and institutions that might be problematic for THR to cover.
“We are committed to our publications and to journalistic integrity,” Valence wrote in a statement. “We have implemented many of Poynter’s recommended changes and recently opened up the discussion beyond our leadership teams to all editorial staff.”
The question of how to balance its journalistic mission with the business interests of its owner has long been a source of tension internally, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to comment. Valence also owns Dick Clark Productions, Billboard and TV and film company MRC, best known as producer of the Netflix series “House of Cards.”
For example, there were discussions about adding executives from Dick Clark Productions to the publication’s power lists and covers, according to the source.
Another matter that stirred internal debate was when THR published an article about a possible sequel to the acclaimed mystery movie “Knives Out” before Lionsgate had officially approved one, two sources said. THR’s sister company MRC was one of the producers of “Knives Out.”
A Valence Media spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment.
Many entertainment industry publications are under pressure as they anticipate a loss of advertising due to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. Already, other digital media publications like BuzzFeed have implemented salary cuts and entertainment industry businesses have laid off workers and shelved Hollywood productions.
The Hollywood Reporter makes a significant portion of its revenue through ads related to award shows, which could make its financial future precarious as people avoid large gatherings during the coronavirus crisis.
Belloni wrote in a note to staff that his exit was not related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2015, Todd Boehly, a former executive at Guggenheim Digital Media, became the controlling owner of THR, Billboard, Adweek and Mediabistro as well as Dick Clark Productions and the Clio Awards. Guggenheim sold Boehly the properties.
In 2018, Boehly reshaped his entertainment empire in a complex deal that put THR, Billboard, MRC and Dick Clark Productions under the same parent company, Los Angeles-based Valence Media. Valence is owned by Boehly’s Eldridge Industries and MRC co-founders Satchu and Wiczyk.