Job-Hopping, Relaunching Shake Up Oscar Coverage

Assessing the impact of changes in Oscar coverage at the L.A. Times, Hollywood Reporter, Deadline and indieWIRE

“There are too many voices in this conversation now,” another blogger said to me at an awards-season party last week. But what’s most interesting isn’t the number of voices, but the changes in how those voices are talking, and where they’re coming from.

In recent days and weeks, the Los Angeles Times, the Hollywood Reporter, Deadline.com, indieWIRE and Gold Derby have made changes in the way they cover awards season. We’ve seen job-hopping, relaunches, consolidation, new ventures and scrambling for the Oscar ad dollars that are crucial to so many in entertainment journalism.

Deadline found a new blogger and is looking to print; the L.A. Times lost a blogger and a licensed site, added two staffers and is refocusing its awards efforts; the Hollywood Reporter is on the verge of a new look and a new approach.

Here’s a look at what’s going on, and how it could affect the awards picture this Oscar season.

DeadlineDeadline gets nicer.

THE STORY: Nikki Finke's Deadline.com made a move that set others in motion in September when it hired Pete Hammond away from the Los Angeles Times’ awards site, The Envelope, where he had been writing the “Notes on a Season” column for years.

The move, which gave the snarkiest website in Hollywood the least snarky man in the Oscar game, was widely seen as a ploy to make potential advertisers feel more comfortable with a site that in the past often wasted no opportunity to savage the Academy and the Oscars. (To be fair, the change had started when Oscar-ad season rolled around about a year ago, when Finke abruptly went from routinely railing at AMPAS to running its press releases verbatim and without comment.)

And in another indication that Oscar ad dollars are a priority, Deadline last week announced that it’ll be doing five print supplements during awards season, all going directly (and exclusively) to Academy members. It’s the first time the site has attempted to have any kind of presence in print – and as the prospective audience makes clear, the whole thing is designed for one reason: to coax studios and Oscar campaigners into paying presumably steep prices to feature their “for your considerations” in a product that will go directly to AMPAS members, including some who might not be going online. 

IMPACT ON AWARDS COVERAGE: Hammond is well-connected and well-liked, and has always been a significant voice in awards coverage. He may not be as well liked after a season of playing by Deadline’s more aggressive rules, but chances are we won’t see him succumbing to snark: this is a guy, after all, who in his awards coverage resolutely refrains from ever giving his opinion on the movies he’s writing about  (although in his Boxoffice Magazine reviews, he’s known for loving everything).

But will his presence be enough to make advertisers overlook the tone of the site in general, and will the print specials have any impact? To the first question, I’d say that given Finke’s own softening tone, he’ll may make Deadline a bit more ad-friendly; as for the print edition, the center of gravity in entertainment journalism has shifted so decisively to the web that it will likely be no more than an afterthought, albeit one that might  bring in a few more bucks.

(David Poland has an amusing and, yes, snarky look at what the print Deadline might look like here.)

The EnvelopeThe L.A. Times expands and consolidates at the same time.

THE STORY: When Hammond left the Times to go to Deadline, the move left The Envelope without one of its two main awards voices; the other, Tom O’Neil, was already in negotiations to take his Gold Derby site independent, while retaining a connection to the Times. The result was what one eyewitness called “a parade of Oscarologists” coming into the Times offices to interview, at least one of whom felt insulted by the editors’ lack of knowledge about or respect for a long-running professional career.

On Friday, the Times announced that Nicole Sperling from Entertainment Weekly had been hired and would be a main contributor to a new blog, Awards Tracker. Rebecca Keegan, a former Time magazine writer who also wrote for Vanity Fair’s Little Gold Men blog, has also been hired and will contribute as well.

IMPACT ON AWARDS COVERAGE: Sperling and Keegan are solid journalists who will likely be used as reporters rather than distinctive voices. (At EW, Dave Karger has always been the awards voice, not Sperling.) And with Hammond leaving and O’Neil ending his Gold Derby blog to become just one of many contributors to Awards Tracker, the Times is clearly reinforcing that it has always felt most comfortable letting its general film reporters lead awards coverage, rather than spotlighting the voices of individual bloggers (who, in the five years since the launch of TheEnvelope, have included O’Neil, Hammond, Scott Feinberg and myself).

In fact, longtime Times reporter Patrick Goldstein, well known for his “hey, you kids, get off my lawn!” view of awards bloggers, has frequently scoffed at the Times’ own contributors in his Big Picture blog. Chances are he’ll have less to complain about with a news-oriented blog whose contributors include Times colleagues like John Horn, Steven Zeitchik and Amy Kaufman in addition to Sperling and Keegan.

Gold DerbyTom O’Neil stays at the Times, and leaves the Times.

THE STORY: The Gold Derby website, which O’Neil launched in 1999, is one of the longest-running awards sites in existence. (Its only challenger might be Sasha Stone’s Awards Daily, formerly OscarWatch, which started around the same time.) When the Times launched The Envelope, it licensed the site from O’Neil for five years – but O’Neil, certainly the most outsized personality among Times awards-watchers, will relaunch Gold Derby on Nov. 1 as a standalone site, albeit with the Times handling ad sales and perhaps becoming an equity investor in the future.

O’Neil has always been an avid Oscar provocateur, tossing out wild theories and issuing his predictions with the declaration that they’re “100 percent accurate!” His plans are typically grand, and his site is being launched with a party at the Hollywood Museum at which the veteran awards-watcher has created an award of his own, which he’s giving to longtime Oscar publicist Murray Weissman.

IMPACT ON AWARDS COVERAGE: One big question: If O’Neil is going to contribute “several” items each day to the Times’ Awards Tracker blog, as he told theWrap, will he really have time to develop his own site into something substantial? It may depend on the work of site executive editor Paul Sheehan and the former contributors to the Gold Derby forums who’ve been made senior editors.

O’Neil has the background to make it a broad-ranging site and fill it with substantial amounts of video content. Its mission statement, though, seems dubious: to track the awards picture and translate it into “racetrack odds.” The awards race is a freewheeling, wide-ranging dialogue; to reduce it to a set of numbers seems not only impossible, but maybe pointless as well – though to be fair, O’Neil’s purpose is probably to use those numbers to start arguments and discussions.  

Thompson on HollywoodAnne Thompson gets even busier.

THE STORY: In September, Eugene Hernandez announced that he’s leaving the indieWIRE website that he’d founded to go to the Film Society of Lincoln Center. He doesn’t depart until the end of October, and the search for his successor continues – but in the meantime, Anne Thompson, whose popular Thompson on Hollywood blog has been hosted by indieWIRE for two years, and who follows the awards races more closely than any of her indieWIRE colleagues, was named editor-at-large and assumed new responsibilities at the site.

Thompson is now dividing her time between her blog and her additional work at the site, which includes working with other bloggers and aiding CEO Rick Allen in the search for Hernandez’s replacement. This week, she is expected to announce a prominent new (but non-Oscar-related) addition to indieWIRE’s blogs.

IMPACT ON AWARDS COVERAGE: As perhaps the most experienced entertainment journalist and editor on the indieWIRE team, Thompson is a logical choice to serve as one of the site’s stewards when Hernandez leaves. The problem is that her blog is reportedly one of the main things drawing traffic to indieWIRE, and the central spot for the site’s awards coverage.

The more time she devotes to the overall site, the less time she’ll have for her own blog – which, at some point, could become a Catch 22 that hurts both indieWIRE and Thompson on Hollywood. She’s brought in outside contributors who add content without changing the personality of the blog, but her ability to find the time to cover the awards race is a key to keeping her site in the conversation.  

The Hollywood ReporterThe Hollywood Reporter changes its personality.

THE STORY: Once the more embattled of the old-style Hollywood trade papers, the Reporter has refashioned itself under new editor Janice Min, with a major unveiling of the new product (a weekly, glossy print edition) reportedly coming in November. The new website, which was quietly launched on Friday night, is, in the words of TheWrap’s Lew Harris, “cleaner, lighter and, in the mode of the day, bloggier.”

The website also includes a prominent section labeled “Awards Watch” — which, so far, consists of news stories that pertain to the awards races, plus a link to trailers.

IMPACT ON AWARDS COVERAGE: The impact depends entirely on what the Reporter is going to do when its full relaunch happens. “Awards Watch” seems to imply an L.A. Times-like conglomeration of coverage from a variety of reporters – and the Reporter has writers who know the awards beat, particularly Gregg Kilday and Alex Ben Block. But will they establish a distinctive voice? And will they be able to navigate the tricky ground between trade news and the mainstream, occasionally tabloidy consumer-oriented coverage that Janice Min seems to be looking for? That’ll have to wait until the print edition launches in November.