Spending Stories: Richard Johnson and Other $1M Offers at THR

The Hollywood Reporter is spending like mad — now come details of how they tried to lure the Page Six editor for a cool million. Is there a business model that supports this?

Talk about burying the lead — in the lead.

In a piece that declares that the gossip sheet Page Six is dead, the Village Voice offers up details about the Hollywood Reporter offering Page Six editor Richard Johnson $1 million to jump ship and write for its new regime. (First reported several weeks ago in Gawker.)

“In the ballpark of $1 million for his first year alone,” is how the article by Foster Kamer and Joe Coscarelli described the job offer from THR co-owner Jimmy Finkelstein.

A million bucks? Is anyone counting what they are spending over there? Finkelstein’s new empire is throwing millions around like they’ve figured out how to make them back.

And that, dear readers, they definitely do not have a plan to do.

What does the trade (circulation, 20,000; web traffic, 1.9 million, if you believe the hype) have to make to justify spending $1 million a year for a gossip columnist?

Let’s do some math:

Group publisher Richard Beckman and THR editorial director Janice Min can both be safely assumed to be making near $1 million each, at least. Beckman had to be lured away from a lucrative second-in-command job at Conde Nast.

Min had already left Jann Wenner’s network when he wouldn’t pay her $2 million, and a knowledgeable source tells WaxWord she turned down a job shortly thereafter at $1.2 million.

Plus, they would hardly take less than Finkelstein would offer Richard Johnson

Meanwhile, numerous senior executives are making high-six-figure salaries, even as THR’s ad pages remain painfully close to absent. As Beckman has lured away talent from rival and non-rival publications, he has done so by plunking down cash on the barrel.

Associate publisher Michaela Apruzzese is undoubtedly making in the $300,000-plus range, since she was in that neighborhood at the L.A. Times. And THR is paying base salaries of $200,000 to lower-ranking ad sales executives, with promises of six-figure bonuses. (Hmmm, how would I know that?)

Moreover, a knowledgeable insider reveals that THR is spending — Oh! My! God! — $2 million on its redesign and rebuild. God only knows how much the revamped weekly print product will cost, but months ago Beckman was choosing only the very best paper stock.

Even so, the Richard Johnson offer came as another bit of sticker shock in this spending spree.

According to the Voice, the offer reportedly came from Finkelstein (an inveterate New Yorker who hates to travel, and seems mostly in love with his DC property, The Hill).

Johnson was prepared to accept the job and relocate to Los Angeles. Small snag in that he had just re-signed a contract to continue to run Page Six through 2012. He asked New York Post editor Col Allan to release him from his contract, and Allan ignored him for weeks.

The writers describe the scene: 

“Finally Johnson confronts his boss over radio silence, expecting an answer, a bureaucratic hold-up, something … Allan barely looks up: Go back to your desk mate, he tells him. And you know what? Johnson does."

This juicy anecdote sets up a lengthy piece about how the king of New York gossip and his once-unchallenged Page Six have fallen from their lofty perch, victim to the 24/7 cycle of internet, the success of Harvey Levin and TMZ.  

The decline of Page Six — once the king of gossip — has left a gaping hole “in the spirit of this city’s once-renownd gossip industry,” says the article.  

I’ve left several messages and emails for Janice Min about this and other articles in the works. She is apparently not speaking to me.

But to me, the real news is in the ongoing evidence that e5 is pursuing a high-risk business strategy. It has hired a good deal of talent, but still does not appear to have a coherent editorial strategy.

As we have recently written, the trade has increasingly moved away from business news toward a mix of soft-focus celebrity fluff and aggressive news coverage that has angered some within the industry.

And no one I know has been able to put together circulation or web-traffic numbers that support an operation that costs multiple millions of dollars before a single word is printed.