Snooze and you'll lose when it comes to news
The power players in Hollywood are finally awakening to the fact that the people who make the news have zero control over how it is disseminated. And this is driving the control freaks crazy.“How has it come to pass that if I fire someone at 10:15, it is already on the Web by 10:14?” one senior studio executive asked me last week. The answer, of course, is that in an era of text messaging and blogging, the press release has become a pathetic anachronism. Studios and networks have been surprisingly slow in adapting to this reality, however. Hence, when Paramount Vantage set about to make staff reductions two weeks ago, the people who were being fired heard the news before they were informed about it by their superiors. Similarly, Brad Pitt was able to read that he’d been cast in Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, “Inglorious Bastards,” before he could read a contract or deal memo. The explanation for all this is that the pace of the news business has been exponentially accelerated at the very time when the machinery of corporate dealmaking has been reduced to a crawl. Lawyers and corporate bureaucrats insist on nitpicking every deal, ignoring the fact that the Web waits for no man. Not that long ago, the news business was downright orderly — almost too much so. Formal press conferences were held, releases promptly issued. Today, when it comes to information, most organizations are lit up like giant Christmas trees, with text messages flashing back and forth between rival companies, talent agencies and bloggers. And no corporate secrecy mandates will ever inhibit the process. All this is both satisfying and exasperating to the journalistic community. On the one hand, most stories are “broken,” not formally disclosed. This would be expected to assuage media egos, except that turf wars are constantly breaking out as to who actually “owns” the story. These turf wars will become even more intense with the imminent start-up of a cluster of new sites that plan to invade the entertainment space, launched by Tina Brown, Bonnie Fuller, Sharon Waxman and even a re-invention of the disastrous Inside.com. In the case of most important stories, the “news” is instantly out there in the ether when the Webbies start making their frantic calls to elicit comment and confirmation. If a blogger or a newsman decides to pee or sip a cup of coffee for 90 seconds before posting a story, a rival will instantly lay claim to having “broken” it. So when an agent like CAA’s Rick Nicita decides to depart the agency business and starts informing colleagues and clients of his decision, the news of his action already is flashing across the landscape (along with insidious interpretations) even before he can actually get out his message. Paradoxically, the same thing happened last week when his wife, Paula Wagner, departed from UA. In a society where there are no secrets, decisionmakers must therefore rethink the way they do business. If they want to “own” the story, and control its spin, then instantaneous disclosure is the only practical course of action. If they don’t get in front of a story, they’ll be spending a lot of time trying to clean up the mess. There’s no room anymore for obfuscation or equivocation, as John Edwards found out recently. Anyone who thinks he can actually control the news process is living in another epoch.