Who’s the bitch now? Taking a page from her reign at Us Weekly, Janice Min has been making her presence felt on the Hollywood Reporter website.
Many inside the industry were shocked at a lead story on Tuesday that felt like a broadside against the generally liked Jennifer Aniston:
“’Switch’ a Bitch for Jennifer Aniston” read the headline, above a story that criticized the movie’s underperformance, but then backtracked to say it “wasn’t necessarily a setback” to her career.
That came on the heels of a scandalous -- and little substantiated -- story about ABC chief Steve McPherson's alleged incidents of sexual harassment on the job, and threats by debt-encumbered financier David Bergstein, who was angered by the coverage of his situation and has also promised to sue.
Much of this is jarring to an industry accustomed to a softer, friendlier (though not widely read) trade paper.
“They’re in areas that are very dicey for a trade publication,” said one prominent publicist, who would not speak for the record and has had a run-in with the publication over a client.
He wasn’t the only one. Aniston’s publicist, Stephen Huvane, acidly wrote TheWrap that THR’s new tone “is not going over well with me but I can't say it's unexpected. Janice Min doesn't know anything other than tabloid journalism so of course THR will start to look just like the other trash that's out there.”
Min did not return calls or an email for this story.
If the aggressive headlines are meant to spark attention, other August headlines are focusing on warmer, fuzzier celebrity fare, including such articles as: “Emma Thompson deals with ‘mild depression'" and “Mary Kate Olsen opens up about early career.”
The flip tone and celebrity focus of THR is a noticeable change since the arrival of Min, the former editor of the celebrity scandal-sheet Us Weekly, where she successfully made the magazine a saucy read. In an interview with TheWrap at the time of her hire, Min said the focus would not be on celebrities: "I will leave the Lindsay Lohan drama to Us Weekly," she said. "If I had wanted to continue to do that I would have done it at Us Weekly."
Clearly she's shifted her thinking. But the question is: Will that approach work in a clubby industry like Hollywood?
For one thing, celeb-slapping doesn't bode well for the back-scratching favors that fuel industry relationships.
THR may have trouble seeking the cooperation of Huvane’s celebrity-rich Slate PR for news tips or cover stories or to get its participation in roundtables, like those THR is attempting to organize for the Toronto Film Festival.
Indeed, Huvane’s reaction was echoed by numerous executives and publicists around the industry. Meanwhile, many still are questioning what the Hollywood Reporter now is -- a trade news publication, or a consumer sheet?
“The big question for me is how the Hollywood Reporter brand remains similar in magazine form if it becomes star-driven, not information-driven,” said Tony Angellotti, a veteran publicist. “That’s what gossip is. If she finds a happy medium between a hard-hitting break like Steve McPherson... and not worry about advertising like Variety – maybe she has something. But she may have to find a whole new set of advertisers.”
The story about McPherson and sexual scandal was the first electric shock to industry insiders. Six months ago, the trade would never have written a story this audacious -- and with such thin authentication.
With legal bulldog Marty Singer threatening a lawsuit, the story has not been retracted, but neither has further substantiation emerged.
One individual close to the situation complained that in classic wild-web fashion, the trade did not give McPherson’s side specifics to respond to, or time in which to do so.
“There was a lack of specifics -- no names, no places -- yet a condemning headline,” said the individual. “And they were going to press in an hour.”
On the heels of that, a story about Casey Affleck being sued by a producer on his Joaquin Phoenix documentary for sexual harassment was the second slap across Hollywood’s face.
The aggressive new tack is also leading to mistakes for a publication not used to breaking stories.
Two months ago, the trade reported in a breaking news alert that the Weinstein brothers had bought Miramax ("Weinsteins to take back Miramax"), which was not the case.
And in late July, the trade reported that former Sen. Bob Kerrey had closed an “all-but-done deal" to chair the Motion Picture Association of America, when in fact he was in the process of backing out of the job offer (which TheWrap reported a few days later).
To many, the trade now feels bifurcated between sensational stories that alienate some core sources and more analytical pieces that have begun to be featured both on the web and on the pages of the print edition.
That seems like part of a move toward the weekly analytical publication that publisher Richard Beckman promised months ago. But the new tone may make the whole thing more complicated to pull off.
“The trades were always the business aspect. I don’t know how people in general respond. But I don’t think people are going to give them legitimate stories. I don’t think they want that association, of being a trade tab,” said one publicist.
Said another prominent publicist, Kelly Bush: “For an industry publication, they’ve got to decide what they are. Are they going for consumers? This is going in that direction, but it’s an industry publication. It certainly seems a little out of place.”