Two-Horse Town?

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I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business this week.

Los Angeles used to be a two-paper town until the herald-examiner stopped the presses forever almost two decades ago. It seems possible that the business may suffer the same fate. The Hollywood Reporter, one of the two industry newspapers of record, may be headed to that big recycling bin in the sky.

If it is going away, it's doing it with a whimper and not a bang. While the Reporter's corporate masters at the Nielsen Company have been touting changes for the better at the paper, they've also been hiring and firing people with abandon and what appears to be very little in the way of foresight.

Both the Hollywood Reporter and the West Coast version of Variety and were born at a time when Hollywood was just beginning to look like the town we know today. And their sensibilities reflected the men who created them: Billy Wilkerson used the money from his star-studded Sunset Strip nightclubs like Ciro's and the Trocadero to start the Hollywood Reporter in 1930. The paper was filled with gossip his editorials that exposed studio corruption. Sime Silverman created the West Coast version of Variety three years later. He was a journalist by trade who, “takes an ordinary lead pencil and cuts it into a number of small ones," according to an account from the time. His paper was much more straightforward. Now, it's hard to tell them apart and that lack of differentiation is part of the Hollywood Reporter's problem.

But neither Billy nor Sime could predict the changes coming to show business or to the newspaper business. It seems that even if the Reporter does disappear first, it will not be their rival that would have won the battle, but factors outside either of their control.

Hollywood is a business where information is king and gossip is as good as fact, and that is perfect agar in which to grow web traffic. So where once you might have started your day perusing Variety by the pool, now the business is just as likely to turn to web sites like Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily or Defamer or news aggregators like Hollywood Wiretap. While Variety's site still gets the most attention, they are increasingly hampered by having to verify all those troublesome facts that don't bother bloggers.

But even when facts are important, the trades get nudged out. The growth of the entertainment business and it's absorption by the entertainment conglomerates mean that Hollywood news is often now real news that is, news that affects Wall Street and stockholders. And the trades, being, well, what trades are the mouthpieces of the industry are in bad position to cover that hard news. Both Variety and the Hollywood Reporter depend heavily on the studios for the bulk of their advertising. So the scoops go to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Interestingly enough, our Los Angeles Times, that one paper in our one paper town, doesn't do as a good a job of covering the industry.

So what is in the future of our industry rags? Ironically, their dependence on the business they cover will ultimately be their life-support, if not their salvation. Because there's no other place for those full page “for your consideration" ads, not to mention ads touting the success of this project or that, or congratulating a star on this accolade or that or mourning the loss of this Hollywood luminary.

You can't compare the possible loss of even a venerable trade paper to the disappearance of a major metropolitan news daily. And the town could do perfectly well without one of our industry papers of record. And yet, losing the Hollywood Reporter would be a loss of history, of institutional memory and another indicator that what was once the business has become just another business. I, for one, hope that doesn't happen.

I'd love to know what you think. Send me an e-mail at

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Matt Holzman