The Hollywood Reporter has been dying a slow death for a decade, bleeding from layoffs, vanishing advertisers and diminished relevance in a news cycle now dominated by cutthroat entertainment blogs.
Its top editors and executives all agreed: to save The Reporter, a mere refocusing of the business model would not do; they needed to eviscerate it.
Starting next month, Janice Min, who became the editorial director in June, and Richard Beckman, chief executive of The Reporter’s parent company, e5 Global Media, will remake the five-times-a-week publication as a glossy, large-format weekly magazine.
The content in the magazine, which will include a mix of analytical and feature articles and photo spreads, will be coupled with an aggressive and redesigned Web operation built around breaking news. A daily digital edition, in a PDF file, will replace the daily printed version distributed to subscribers now.
The Reporter’s message to the competition: Traditional trade reporting in Hollywood has been in need of heart paddles for a long time and — clear! — we’ve finally arrived with them.
“It’s our negligence — the way we’ve served up our content over the last couple of years has allowed some really poor competitors to emerge,” Mr. Beckman said in a recent interview from his office at e5’s Manhattan headquarters. “But we are going to rectify that starting right now.”
The Reporter wants to transform the way it does business but also change the model that has allowed the Hollywood trade publications to exist for nearly a century. Heavily dependent on advertising from the entertainment industry, publications like Variety and The Reporter have long provided favorable coverage of the films and studios that pay their bills. Mr. Beckman is gunning for a larger slice of the advertising market: beauty, fashion, consumer electronics and liquor, for starters.
“We’re not going to be a product that purely strokes the industry because the industry won’t respect that,” said Mr. Beckman, a former top executive with Condé Nast who is known as Mad Dog.
Ms. Min, who ended a successful run at Us Weekly last year, has certainly wasted no time giving The Reporter an edge.
ABC matters and pornography ...
On July 28, she ran an article in which anonymous sources said that the abrupt resignation of Stephen McPherson, ABC’s former entertainment president, was tied to “multiple harassment complaints.”
Mr. McPherson hired the litigator Marty Singer to demand a retraction and threaten a lawsuit. Ms. Min said she faxed a letter back to Mr. Singer saying that The Reporter would relish the opportunity to depose Mr. McPherson and sift through his work e-mail.
Another prominent article delved into the pornography business, a topic the chaste trades have traditionally ignored. Most recently, Ms. Min’s reporters had Time Warner in knots by reporting that it had hired an executive recruiter to solve a succession problem at Warner Brothers. An infuriated Jeffrey L. Bewkes, Time Warner’s chief executive, immediately denounced the article as inaccurate, in an interview with The Los Angeles Times.
“I guess it shakes the system out here that a so-called trade would dare to break news that wasn’t spoon fed,” Ms. Min recently said over lunch. “Well, people had better get used to it.”
Producing more relevant, provocative journalism is only half the battle. The Reporter will have to convince jaded, overstimulated Hollywood readers that it is worth another look.
“I do think The Reporter lost a lot of its luster,” said Lorenza Munoz, an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Southern California and a former entertainment reporter for The Los Angeles Times. “It just hasn’t been very stable. And whenever that happens you lose your brand identity. People stop reading you, and it’s hard to get them back on your bandwagon. But they can make it a must-read. And if they are covering Hollywood aggressively and breaking stories, then people will have to read it.”
The Reporter, along with its older rival, Variety, has also been struggling to adjust to a sharp downturn in industry-oriented advertising. Movie and television companies — making fewer films, battling a sharp decline in DVD sales, watching digital video recorders erode ad sales — have been slashing trade ads. Warner Brothers, the largest movie and TV studio, last year spent half as much on trade ads as it did the previous year.
At the same time, the sort of insider knowledge that once made the Hollywood papers daily must-reads has become ubiquitous, and free, on the Web. IndieWire.com is now the favored destination for specialty film information. In a challenge to Variety, TheWrap.com has started organizing industry conferences, while Deadline.com regularly breaks news that sends the traditional trades, including The Reporter, scrambling.
Annual revenue at the paper, about $50 million four years ago, is now closer to $30 million, propped up in part by consumer ads.
Mr. Beckman’s plan is to enlarge The Reporter in every way possible. He says that its circulation will grow to 60,000 in the first months after the weekly has its premiere, with the goal of quadrupling that in three years. Its current circulation, including international distribution and free copies mailed to celebrities and other industry insiders, is 47,000. (It would not release its total paid circulation.) The price will rise to $5.99 on the newsstand (now $2.99 for the daily issue). The price of a year’s subscription, however, will fall to $249 from about $300 now.
Mr. Beckman would not say how much the remake is costing e5, but he said the editorial staff of The Reporter would grow by about 50 percent, to 70 people, and that the company had spent several million dollars for a redesign of its Web site, by the agency Razorfish. Ms. Min also did not come cheap; her annual salary at US Weekly was in the $2 million range.
What is going to pay for all this? In large part, ads that are aimed at wealthy consumers — or “influencers,” as Mr. Beckman calls them. The key to his model, he explained, is to get The Reporter into the hands of more than just entertainment industry executives. He wants to reach the opinion leaders, early adopters and taste makers who set consumer trends. In a twist on the traditional trade publication model, known as B2B for business to business, Mr. Beckman calls the new Reporter B2I, with I standing for influencer.
Rivals in the entertainment media seem unimpressed. “I don’t see any business model that supports what they are doing,” said Sharon Waxman, editor of TheWrap.
The prototype of the redesigned Reporter shows how he and Ms. Min plan to reach both audiences. It includes a new, more stylized logo and is printed on heavy, glossy paper. It is divided between fluff — an “About Town” section offers extensive coverage of parties and premieres — and substantive, reported features with tart language like “Coroner’s Report,” an examination of a movie that flopped. “How ‘Mad Men’ Inspired Prada,” reads the headline of another feature in the prototype.
The changes have challenged a rather sleepy newsroom culture. When Ms. Min arrived at The Reporter on June 15, she was shocked to discover that the paper did not hold daily news meetings. “That explained a lot about why coverage had grown very dry and very small,” she said. “It’s the equivalent of covering baseball and only reporting stats.”
She added, “The whole organization had a collective self-esteem problem. It wasn’t ‘What do we think the news is here?’ It was ‘Here is what we are chasing from the Internet, and here is what the studios and networks want us to write about.”‘
And although some in Hollywood may be skeptical, Mr. Beckman, never one to lack brio or confidence, is not deterred. “It makes me laugh to get pigeonholed by these morons,” he said.