Of course, anything that engages Nikki Finke risks rousing the beast and unleashing a torrent of invective, but I am a media columnist, so here goes.
Although I'm a fan of Mike Fleming and Nellie Andreeva — Finke's two recent hires for her Deadline.com site — I'm increasingly convinced that adding other voices to the mix is doing little more than watering down Finke's franchise.
What made Deadline work is Finke's relentlessness, her pit-bull, take-no-prisoners approach to every story. In her world, there are good guys and bad guys (mostly the latter), with no room for shades of gray, and she found a fertile niche as the voice of discontent in Hollywood. The writers' strike played perfectly to these strengths, allowing her to position herself as an alternative to the traditional media (the trades, the Los Angeles Times, etc.), who were deemed to be "in the pockets" of the studios. Finke has been to entertainment journalism what Fox News and talkradio have been to major newspapers — an alternative to the "lamestream media," catering to a base that felt disenfranchised and, in some instances, angry.
Finke was also able to move fast — the benefits of a one-person operation — and present a site that spoke with a clear and distinguishable voice. Love her or hate her, nobody ever had to question where she stood — or oftentimes, whose spin she was buying.
Now, however, Deadline feels like a seriously diluted product. Fleming and Andreeva are experienced reporters, and as such they clearly aren't comfortable going for the jugular with every item. They're too well-schooled, frankly, to not at least try to be fair most of the time.
What often makes Finke so entertaining (and frequently infuriating), of course, is that fairness never figures into the equation. She has the instincts and sources of a reporter, but with the attack-dog mentality of a talkradio host. Because she sees NBC U's Jeff Zucker as a pinhead, for example, he can do no right regardless of the situation, and everything is strained through that filter. It's the kind of stuff that everyone loves, provided it isn't about them.
I understand why Finke's employer, Jay Penske, wanted Fleming. Aside from having terrific sources, he was an insurance policy in case Finke threw a fit, quit or otherwise flamed out. (Finke bragged about telling Penske that she would be "the worst employee he will ever have" in an interview with Sharon Waxman.)
With Penske behind her, Finke would seem to be on top of the world. Hell, even HBO has a series in the works loosely based on her. Let's just hope it's better than "How to Make It in America."
Yet having a staff contributing to her site (the fourth being Tim Adler, who I don't know, in the U.K.) has fundamentally altered its chemistry.
Sure, Finke still crows about her scoops and cultivates petty feuds (see her recent back-and-forth with Waxman, whose site she has not-very-cleverly dubbed TheCrap), but overall Deadline's not the same. And whatever the future holds for what appears to be a surplus of entertainment-news ventures vying for the same audience, the site is no longer quite so much the "lean and mean" operation Finke once proudly boasted it was.
Personally, I'm rooting (somewhat selfishly, I confess) for all these newspapers and sites to find some way to succeed. Having viable outlets around is good news for journalists, especially now, whether that's the Hollywood Reporter or Vulture. As something of a media historian who remembers Inside.com, though, I'm skeptical that all of them (or if you prefer, all of us) can survive.
Deadline once appeared assured of being in the winners column, but based on its new formulation I'm no longer as certain. And if that's the case, well, just remember who toldja.
Anyway, it felt good to get that off my chest. Time to go find my umbrella. Those clouds overhead look like a possible shitstorm is coming.