Oscar watchers buzzed by blog blitz

Data-crunching sites offer predictions, play a role in campaign

The top blogs offer observers a good mix of inside information, stats, commentary and of course, opinions. Below is a select list of awards season sites.

Variety: http://www.variety.com/awardcentral
And the Oscar Goes To: http://trak.to/oscar/
Carpetbagger: http://carpetbagger.nytimes.com
The Envelope: http://theenvelope.latimes.com
Hollywood Elsewhere: http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com
The Hot Button: http://www.thehotbutton.com
Movie City News: http://www.moviecitynews.com
Oscar Watch: http://www.oscarwatch.com

Like most spectator sports, the fun part of the Oscar race is watching the game unfold in all its minutiae, from strategies and statistics to proud proclamations and thwarted prognostications.

And with Oscar the official obsession of Hollywood, the blogs and Web sites that crunch every conceivable piece of data in an attempt to predict the outcome of each race are playing a role in the campaign.

The blogs that have had the most impact this season have come from traditional media, with the Los Angeles Times and New York Times both launching high-profile sites.

Tom O’Neil, writer of the Gold Derby blog on the Envelope, the L.A. Times’ site, says he hears frequently from studio chiefs and potential nominees within an hour after writing about their Oscar chances.

“They are obsessed with these blogs. They monitor them around the clock. They quibble with every word we write,” says O’Neil, author of a book on showbiz kudos. “I don’t know if we’re affecting the outcome. We’re certainly having an impact on the discussion.”

The New York Times’ version is called Carpetbagger, a reference to the East Coast paper’s foray into the defining industry of its cross-country rival. Written by veteran media columnist and culture reporter David Carr, the blog has a breezy style that has earned high marks in the blogosphere.

“I know it’s having some measure of impact because when I step on somebody I get backchannel howls pretty frequently,” he says.

Unlike Carpetbagger, which is set to run only through the Oscars, the Envelope is a year-round site that will cover the Grammys, the Emmys and the Tonys, O’Neil says. The writer launched Gold Derby in 2000 and licensed it to the Times for use on the Envelope.

“Our challenge is bringing in enough users to the site, and it’s growing exponentially every day,” O’Neil says.

Readers who want more of an inside approach find it at sites like Movie City News and Hollywood Elsewhere, both full-time Web-only sites run by former print journalists who prefer the immediacy and intimacy of the Internet and blogging.

“The speed of it is the thing. This is really keeping pace with the world,” says Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere. Wells says his audience is mostly media and industry people, but he doubts his site has any more impact on the Oscar race than any other single print or Web news source.

Instead, he says the online community and the speed at which it spreads information affects the overall discussion.

David Poland, co-owner and publisher of Movie City News and writer of the Hot Button online column and a blog, agrees: “The primary way things are influenced is by mass opinion. When something is repeated over and over, it has an influence.”

Poland says it’s unlikely his site reaches many Academy members, most of who are over 50 and tend not to be heavy Web users, but the numbers are relative. “The Oscar game is about 100 votes here and 100 votes there,” he says.

As experienced print and online journalists, Wells and Poland describe their relationships with studios and their publicity departments as conventional. “The last three or four years, I’ve been handled by top-level people at the studios that are not the same people handling (fan sites such as) Dark Horizons,” Poland says.

With personality being so important in blogging, it’s no surprise there’s been some drama. When L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein wrote that bloggers’ constant analysis was turning the Oscars into “a silly exercise in Ouija board-style predictions and lamebrained analysis,” the bloggers responded in force on the Envelope.

Goldstein has since started podcasting with colleague John Horn for the Envelope. And Carr says he’s often called “blog boy” around the office. “It really isn’t a very nice name,” he says.

Not every Oscar blog is a moneymaking venture — some people just do it for fun. Sasha Stone started OscarWatch.com in 1999 while at home after the birth of her daughter. A newspaper writer with a background in film studies, Stone says she’s always been interested in Oscar predictions and finds her readers share her passion.

“It’s always been people all over the world who don’t live in Hollywood and are fascinated with the Oscars,” she says.

And while her site accepts ads, Stone says she’s too “pathologically shy” to accept studios’ interview offers and rarely accepts invitations to screenings or press events.

Similarly, Russ Colombo runs And the Oscar Goes To (currently at http://trak.to/oscar/) as a “happy hobby on the side” from his home in Florida.

“I can’t offer the same perspective as someone who lives in L.A. and goes to a screening,” he says. “My aim is to take all the info on the Internet and try to make some sense out of it from my perspective.”

Colombo is happy to hear from industry pros and publicists offering press kits and screenings, but he has no intention of trying to make money from the site. “I’ve done it for free, and I don’t really have any reason to pick up money for it,” he says.

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