I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business.
It appears the Los Angeles Times intends to become the “go-to” newspaper of the business, judging by an announcement they made last week. They're consolidating their entertainment reporters, editors and producers from their business and calendar sections and bringing back their popular “company town” feature to anchor their reporting on the business. TV ratings, box office and download sales will be tracked every week, as well as the stocks of media companies that will comprise the “company town” index.
Their plan seems a tad ambitious considering the layoffs that have been hacking away at the ranks – and morale – of the Times over the past three years or so. Their thinking seems to be that they need to be more efficient by focusing on areas of interest to their core audiences. And this is a company town. It's an added bonus that Hollywood news is interesting to people who aren't necessarily in the business.
You might ask – hasn't the Los Angeles Times always been the paper of record for the business…which is based in Los Angeles? Well, no, as a matter of fact, industry people have made a sport of looking down on the times. Consider KCRW's own Harry Shearer, who refers to our beloved paper as the “Los Angeles Dog Trainer.”
A lot of Hollywood's disdain for the paper is everyone's disdain for the paper and it has been well earned. But it hasn't made it an easier on the Times that in general, folks in show business would rather see their names in the New York Times than in the “local” paper. To make matters worse, in this day and age of the media conglomerate, Hollywood stories are more and more of interest to the wall street journal, and they often end up there. Of course, if you need a friendlier angle on your story, there's always the trades.
Besides, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal only have to worry about the biggest Hollywood stories. To make things tougher on the LA Times, to be the source for all things Hollywood, it will also have to compete with the blogosphere.
Hollywood is a town that loves gossip. Show business is largely run on rumor. And the increasing number of show-biz sites aren't tied down by all those troublesome journalistic rules – like getting the facts from more than one source – and they end up beating newspapers to the story again and again. They're often wrong – but in this town, the whispers are as much a story as the actual story. For instance, I'm told the LA Times knew that Peter Chernin was leaving News Corp. Before anyone else knew, but they just couldn't confirm it to the satisfaction of their editorial guidelines. And so they got beat – by Nikki Finke's ”Deadline Hollywood Daily” – to an incredibly important story.
And of course, breaking stories beget breaking stories – so Nikki's liable to get the next big tip, and on it goes.
It seems to me that a Times blog called something like “word on the street,” that reports what they've heard rather than what they know, would satisfy the paper's old-school editors' fear of getting the story wrong and today's new-media consumers who demand on getting it now.
They've discussed the idea but it was killed by the powers that be. To me, that's an indication that the Times' just doesn't get the new media landscape. Consider this: the week of the big announcement about company town, the LATimes.com/CompanyTown web address didn't always seem to work.
So, the Times is going to have to do a few things if they want to succeed in getting Hollywood's attention. First, they're going to have to embrace the web whole-heartedly, and that includes up-dating their web site and their definition of “news.”
And, their reporters are going to have to work twice as hard as reporters from those New York papers.
And if they do that – and it appears they're trying their best given limited resources – how about we agree to do our part to make our home paper the go-to source for Hollywood? Instead of bitching and moaning about the Times, why not call them with your breaking story or your anonymous tip? If they do something great with it, the times will become known as the go-to place for the Hollywood low-down and you'll have helped save our newspaper. If not, you can always go back to reading Nikki Finke.
I'd love to know what you think. Send me an e-mail at TheBusiness@KCRW.org. You can download a podcast of this commentary, share it with a friend, or embed it on your blog with the click of a button from our new media player at KCRW.com/TheBusinessBrief. For KCRW, I'm Matt Holzman.