Another hit job on Nikki Finke has surfaced, this time in an online-only Film Comment piece by Roger Smith: “Finke’s MO is a time-honored one: for fear of becoming a target, high-level sources feed her fairly juicy stuff, hoping to placate her. If those sources are expecting long-term loyalty, or even semi-permanent placation, they had best reevaluate those expectations.
“Of course, this is also a case study in the internet’s extreme degrading effects on journalism — both its ethical standards and its very economic basis. What Nikki Finke has done is combine a deep knowledge of her subject — the business of Hollywood –with a laser-like sense of people’s insecurities and the fact that the instantaneous presentation of ‘news’ 24 hours a day values speed over accuracy, ‘readability’ over thoroughness, and downright thuggishness over professionalism.”
Wells comment #1: It sounds a bit fogeyish to lament readability over thoroughness. The medium is the medium, and I think it’s fairly well understood that in the case of major online columns penned by former print journalists that every post is as thorough as the author was able to make it before publishing. If it’s not 100% thorough, then it’s a fairly safe bet it will improve and be honed with updates and corrections over the next several minutes, or certainly with an hour or two. And if the authors don’t correct soon after they’ll soon be writing their own epitaphs.
Obviously no one posts anything unless they’re 97% or 98% certain that everything in a piece has been researched and double-checked, but if they post with an error or two…wham, you can fix ’em right away as long you’re alert at the keyboard and not going out for a two-hour lunch without your iPhone or Blackberry.
Back to Smith: “With near-perfect timing, Finke’s online dispatches have provided an alternative to spending 30 minutes or so a day reading the trades. Variety and The Hollywood Reporter are chopping staff by 50 percent in a desperate attempt to stay ahead of precipitous drops in ad revenue — an effort that may or may not succeed in saving franchises that are 105 and 79 years old, and until quite recently, almost invariably profitable.
“But there is also a very real question as to whether the blog business model can be sustained over time. Deadline Hollywood, bolstered by Jay Penske‘s cash, has recently stolen three top journos, one each from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, plus a senior London-based entertainment writer, the beginnings of building a serious staff and its attendant costs. Whether the website’s ad revenues alone will cover those costs is highly doubtful. And should Deadline Hollywood, down the road, choose to erect a ‘pay wall’ will it see its traffic decimated?”
Wells comment #2: HE’s business model works, I can tell you, by keeping operating costs way down. One full-time salary (mine), two part-time freelancers (advertising and tech) and no collateral office expenses — it’s all done from my pad — and no health or dental insurance costs to speak of, and no operational expenses save for a monthly fee paid to the server, plus necessary equipment (laptop, cameras, desktop computer, chargers, cords) purchased when needed.
Back to Smith: “And until Finke’s million or so unique monthly visitors are asked to pay, they can continue to enjoy, gratis, Finke’s near-patented style of innuendo, unsourced quotes, outright vilification, and attempts to redact her mistakes into ‘updates.’ It appears that the internet, Hollywood and Nikki Finke were made for each other.”
Wells comment #3: The “thuggery” thing I obviously agree with, having tasted it first-hand. Then again power constructs high stone walls and heavy wooden gates and hires goons to guard them, and you can’t get in unless you’re tough and aggressive. That’s the way of the world. But I really detest the mindset that constantly assumes and anticipates that venal or under-handed motives are in play at all times, and that you need to wear armor 24-7 and always keep your handgun loaded with the safety off.
We all need to keep our guard up, of course, but if you allow your dark angels to run too much of the show you’ll be consumed by them. I once admonished a journalist friend for thinking like Herman Melville, for believing in a vision of life in which snapping serpents are constantly slithering through the ponds and rivers and along the terra firma and under the flora, and if you’re not careful you’ll step on one and get bitten in the leg, and maybe even swallowed.
“The sea is calm,” said Claggart, the master-at-arms in Billy Budd. “Peaceful. Calm above…but below a world of gliding monsters, preying on their fellows, murderers all of them. Only the strongest teeth survive. And who’s to tell me it’s any different here on board or yonder, on dry land?”