It's only in retrospect that we realize how terrifying it was to jump into the deep end of digital media
It's only terrifying in retrospect to have leaped into the treacherous swells of digital media and found out we could swim.
TheWrap launched on January 26, 2009, just a few days after Barack Obama took office, three months after the financial world fell to pieces and on the same day Variety laid off 30 people. All were signs of the times. All were bellwethers for the era of change in which TheWrap was born.
What I mainly remember was spending 18 out of 24 hours of the first days glued to my chair, staring at the computer screen, updating stories on the new site, and a kind assistant bringing me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for sustenance.
In the early days, I was a broken record: Speed. Accuracy. Voice. And most of all: Be Essential, written on a slip of paper above my desk, lest I forget. We decreed: No Variety “ankling,” “helming,” “boffo,” or “bonzo” at TheWrap. After one too many refugees from the trade papers came through our newsroom afraid to write a negative headline I hung the First Amendment on the wall.
At the time, it seemed clear that there was a need for a publication that would serve the information needs of entertainment professionals in the digital age. To provide breaking business news and informed analysis in real time, and serve it up on every platform where they sought to be informed – desktop computer, tablet, mobile and email.
And that is what we've done as we've grown from five people working in my guest house/kids’ playroom, with early staffers stepping over boys’ gym shorts strewn on the bathroom floor, to a bustling newsroom and business operation of 30-plus people bursting out of our loft space in West L.A.
(Note to aspiring digital media anythings: we're still hiring.)
In addition to the website, we've launched a conference, an events business, a film development database, an app, and a studio for original video.
Along the way, we've learned a great deal about start-ups, SEO, competition, Google Analytics and the stuff you can never, ever anticipate. Like when the zoning commissioner showed up demanding some certificate, or when a wealthy heiress sued us over a story about Mayans and extraterrestrials, when sudden illness struck down a title speaker at our Grill conference or the vertigo-inducing moment every time the site went down.
Who was it who said that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger? Five years in, pushing ahead after our biggest growth year ever, with 500% growth in our reader base, leading the charge on news, and looking toward what the next phase of growth will bring.
It's easy to forget how risky the media business has become in the digital age. In the years since we've launched, both our legacy competitors The Hollywood Reporter and Variety got sold. The digital trade Deadline got sold and has now lost its founder. Major ventures like The Daily Beast have launched, bought Newsweek, shut Newsweek, and lost their lead editor Tina Brown. Time magazines have been spun off from Time-Warner. Newspapers including The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune are being spun off from Tribune Co. Dow Jones has shut AllThingsD. PaidContent has been sold, and gone into eclipse.
It's not for the faint of heart. But media, we believe, is at the very heart of a pulsing, healthy, democratic society with a vibrant economy. We deeply believe that a business-based approach to our core, niche readers is what has allowed us to thrive in such difficult times, and to grow. And nothing is more exciting than to observe the passionate exchange among our community of readers, to see them excited about the smallest foreign films at our screening series and to participate at our Grill conferences both on stage and in the hallways.
Most gratifying of all has been to watch the growth of a new generation of digital journalists in our newsroom, an ever-growing pool of incredibly talented young people passionate about our mission and committed to providing readers with news of value every day, all day. They're driven to dig deep, find facts, retrieve key insights and balance that with opposing views.
Many, many people have helped create TheWrap as you see it today. Some are still with us, others have moved on to other projects, plenty weigh in with advice and guidance. There are far too many to name here, but my appreciation for their contribution knows no bounds.
Most of all we thank you, our readers, for being part of this truly incredible journey for the last five years.
And this probably won't surprise you at all, but as far as we're concerned – we're just getting started.
(Our friends at Sundance found out it was our birthday, so they made us this video. Check out a video look back from the start at the top of this page)