THR Turmoil Underscores Importance of Editorial Freedom for All Media Outlets (Column)

Matthew Belloni
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What happened this week at The Hollywood Reporter is nothing less than shocking — and deeply disturbing. Even though we’re a fierce rival of the publication, I really feel for the journalists over there, who have had their editorial independence yanked out from under them by their misguided corporate bosses at Valence Media and Media Rights Capital.

Those geniuses imposed an unethical mandate on THR to soften its coverage of the industry so as not to alienate their advertisers and business partners.

Editorial director Matt Belloni, who abruptly resigned this week in protest, rightly balked at a demand by Valence co-CEOs Modi Wiczyk and Asif Satchu, who oversee THR, to compile a list of people and companies that could be problematic for the publication to cover in any disparaging way.

The Daily Beast published some very damning emails that Billboard-THR Media Group president Deanna Brown had sent to Belloni complaining about THR’s “ongoing negative coverage of the industry,” singling out specific stories that she and the corporate brass thought too fraught. Though I greatly enjoy outsmarting Belloni in our coverage, I have a newfound respect for him pushing back against corporate’s attempts to kill stories it deemed weren’t “nice” enough.

It can’t help reminding me of that dangerous man in the White House who continually berates journalists for asking tough questions, imploring the media to be “nicer” to him and toe the line for his and the government’s agenda.

Meanwhile, Belloni can’t talk about the huge scandal inside THR, as he took what I imagine is a sizable settlement and signed an NDA meant to shut him up. I guess that’s why in the last line of his goodbye memo to his staff on April 6, he disingenuously characterized his exit as “100% amicable.” And Valence, just as disingenuously, said the company remained “committed to our publications and to journalistic integrity.”

Well, Kumbaya! We should sit around the fire and raise a glass to just how grown-up everyone is being!

Valence says it will begin a search for Belloni’s replacement. But, honestly, under these awful circumstances, who in their right journalistic mind would take that job?