New Daily Variety Editor Leo Wolinsky: Grilled

“Frankly I didn’t think I was going to stay in journalism — I didn’t think there was a job out there for me”

Daily Variety has a new editor — Leo Wolinsky, a respected and well-liked editor at the Los Angeles Times who was shown the door in October 2008 after clashing with chief editor Russ Stanton. Wolinsky has 30 years of hard news experience in print, but knows little of Hollywood and even less about digital. He will report to Group Editor Tim Gray. He agreed to be grilled by Sharon Waxman.

So how did this come about?
I applied.

I didn’t know the job was open.
Yes. They’d posted it some time ago. I went through the usual application process.

Your experience is city news, right?
My background has been local news. I became the managing editor of the paper, on and off for a dozen years or more, but certainly I was a local reporter, city editor — all those positions.

How comfortable are you in a very senior role in Hollywood? Peter Bart was kind of the mayor of Hollywood.
I’m not really taking Peter’s job. I spent the last year overseeing the Calendar and features section. I got a bit of baptism. But, sure, I have a lot to learn.

What was your vision to help turn things around at Variety?
It wasn’t so much about presenting a vision. They hired me on the strength of my background. The big business story in Hollywood is the tremendous change within the business model — everyone is still searching for one that works.

What will be your editorial focus?
Breaking news becomes number one. Enterprise is extrarodinarily important. Reporters at Variety can bring something to the fore to interpret the news, to let people know what’s around the corner.

What is your familiarity with the online world?  
I was an engineering major, but I’m not a dot-com engineer. I’m familiar with the use of the digital world in terms of publication. I’m a big supporter of it. Variety needs to be there on the edge of it. But I won’t have to fuss with the mechanics of that. My job is to make sure reporters are doing what they need to make sure it goes up quickly and accurately. It was there in the early days of journalism; that hasn’t changed.

So you’re not running
It’s not my primary focus. I’ll be running the staff. There’ll be someone running the dot-com operation.

Who will that be?
That’s a separate decision. I’m not clear if that job is filled or not.

But Variety doesn’t really break news. Do you intend to change that?  
That’s not how it was explained to me. They want to break news, no question about it. I certainly do. It’s been my thing from day one. Way before the internet and all that, you need to get in there and tell people what they don’t know.

When did you start reading Variety?
Since I was city editor.

You’re aware of the financial straits and cutbacks at Variety. Are you concerned with being able to put out a good product?
It’s something I’ve been living with for many years, accelerated over the last five. I know that it’s a big strain to try to do it now with a much smaller staff.

What size is the staff?
I don’t know. I think in the neighborhood of 50 to 60. It is difficult, but if you’re going to stay in journalism, this is what you have to contend with.

Frankly, I didn’t think I was going to stay in journalism. I didn’t think there was a job out there for me. This came as a tremendous surprise. Not only is it a great job, it’s something I’d love to do. I know there’ll be tough times. We’re in tough times. I’ve grown used to that.