Showbiz shuffle has H'w'd, journos tripping over one another

If you believe what you read on the Web, director Matthew Vaughn is going back to work.

No he isn’t.

Yes he is.

You see, Vaughn’s career, like so many others, is being reported moment by moment on the entertainment news websites. Thanks to the new era of “transactional journalism,” we learned that Vaughn was about to be offered the directing gig on “X-Men: First Class,” a prequel. That’s what Mike Fleming wrote on Deadline: Hollywood.

Then the ever-diligent Fleming told us that the deal fell apart, or maybe the offer hadn’t been made to begin with. A day later both Fleming and Pam McClintock of Daily Variety posted the news that a deal was at hand, after all. The studio, Fox, even got around to confirming it.

As the number of sites focusing on Hollywood continues to proliferate, so does the pace and aggressiveness of newsgathering. Locked in the fight, in order of their launch dates, are Deadline: Hollywood, Vulture, Daily Beast and the Wrap, alongside stalwarts Entertainment Weekly, the Hollywood Reporter and the Los Angeles Times, to mention a few. (To be sure, Variety.com also is firmly in the race.)

“There’s no way I can own a story anymore,” says the PR chief of one cable network, “I get the calls, issue my denials and run for cover.”

In those increasingly rare cases where a major story is kept under wraps, the PR community all but swoons. The Conan O’Brien deal at TBS was one such example. The dealmaking machinery worked with record speed and secrecy.

A more common example: last week’s story that CBS and CNN were in intense talks once again to combine news resources. New York Magazine’s site broke the news and Bill Carter of the New York Times picked it up, assigning due credit. No comment from CBS.

The reaction of corporate hierarchs to the changing news universe is a study in contrasts. Some still think they can control the news flow, thus triggering nervous breakdowns among their PR men, who know otherwise.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are those players who have figured out how to use the Web to negotiate. Talent agents have become especially skilled in planting leaks to ferret out jobs or raise studio offers, When a “transactional” story tells you that a top star is not going to do a movie after all, here’s the translation: He wants more money. If a story like that hits the Web at 3 p.m., it will go viral within moments.

Some journalists, like the omniscient Nikki Finke, have taken heat for fostering journalism’s “new wave,” but the phenomenon has, in fact, created both a new transparency and a new energy.

I can testify to this because, in my former life as a studio executive, I was often appalled at the lethargy of print journalists then covering the movie business. Some years ago, when Paramount furtively sold its physical assets (the backlot) to a shady group of financiers who were clearly covering for the Mafia, the story went unreported for several days. Months later when all the facts became public, the deal fell through.

No reporter at the time asked me about it. I would have told them the truth.

Today the print media have their own sites and are working hard to meet the new competition while maintaining the integrity of their traditional brands. When Daily Variety has a print exclusive, it posts the online version around 4 a.m. the day of publication. When it has online exclusives, the story is posted quickly then fleshed out and embellished, with that version saved for the next day in print and iterations.

In any case, quarrels continue on a daily basis among all these players as to who “owns” which story online or in print.

Meanwhile, I hope Matthew Vaughn made a good deal on the prequel to “X-Men,” which apparently will move into production quickly. The plot will focus on Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr before they became enemies as Professor X and Magneto.

None of this sounds quite as unique as Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl defending the citizenry in Vaughn’s current movie. In fact, when I met with Vaughn last week, he told me he intended to follow “Kick-Ass” with a film that exuded a more spiritual aura, like his “Stardust.”

Yet, I suppose, there’s nothing as spiritual as a major-league pay day.

Kick some ass, Matthew.

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