Media Interviews
In their own words

Nikki Finke: I'm a Hollywood Dominatrix the Legal Kind
The journalist behind Deadline Hollywood Daily aims to provide showbiz insiders with the "business news humilitainment" they crave. "I'm chained to my computer," she says. "But I really am loving this."

By Patrick Phillips
I Want Media, 2/27/09

Nikki Finke has had a big week. Deadline Hollywood Daily, the 3-year-old Internet version of her showbiz column for LA Weekly, attracted scores of visitors for her witty and knowing live blogging of the 81st annual Academy Awards ceremony.

The following day, Finke broke the news on her site that News Corp. president Peter Chernin was preparing to announce his departure from the Rupert Murdoch-controlled media conglomerate.

To top it off, the Financial Times just anointed Finke whose site served as a critical industry forum for the recent Hollywood writers strike "the reigning queen of Hollywood news."

I Want Media: Did your scoop on Peter Chernin cause News Corp. to push up its announcement of his plan to leave the company?

Nikki Finke: That's what I was told by internal sources there. (Or maybe they were just trying to brown-nose me.) But I do know they were scrambling afterwards to get an announcement together when the world press began seeking confirmation.

IWM: Your "live snarking" of this year's Academy Awards attracted more than 400 comments. Do you have a favorite?

Finke: 467, to be precise. Added to the 895 comments on my pre-Oscars post. And I monitor all comments so that was a treat and a half. (I wonder whether, when Sean Penn thanked the Academy "commie lovin' homo sons 'a' guns" who'd voted him the award, he'd read most of those 1,362 comments, too.)

My favorite comment? I have two: The first is, "Thaaaaaaaaat's enough of that. For the rest of the night, it's News from Nikki. ABC and the Academy can bite me." And this one: "I am ready to go walk over to Hollywood and Highland and start flinging my poo like an angry chimp on Xanax."

IWM: What's your opinion of this year's Oscar ceremony? What could be done to improve the Oscars?

Finke: I heard they were reading my live-snarking in the green room during the show, and holding their heads in their hands and moaning. Seriously. First, they need to stop doing that. Second, they need to improve the demographics of the Oscar voters before even focusing on the show. The Academy members skew too old and out of touch. When the nominations most years snub the most popular movies, even those that were well done like "The Dark Knight," then something is very wrong. The Oscars' ratings were big the year that "Titanic" won best picture. Like, duh.

As for the show, at least this year it wasn't Sunday night at the Friars Club. Instead, it was Sunday night at the Pomona Dinner Theater. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Put someone in charge who knows how to make interesting television. But they never do. They keep picking their pals. As I reported, Academy president Sid Ganis selected the "Dreamgirls" team of Larry Mark and Bill Condon to produce the 81st Oscars over a long and cozy Polo Lounge lunch. Not only did Ganis fail to search far and wide for something different, he merely reached across the table for the same old same old.

IWM: Has DHD changed since you launched it during Oscar week in 2006?

Finke: I started it in relative obscurity. For two days. And then, to my shock, Drudge picked up my Oscars live-snarking, and things have been harrowing ever since.

I think DHD has changed only that I've worked hard to get better at reporting and writing it. I think my tone has stayed the same. So has my insistence on sticking to showbiz news and not celebrity bullshit. (Though when I wrote about the upcoming Jonas Brothers 3-D concert movie, 688 comments came in overnight. Scary.)

IWM: What you like most/least about writing for the Internet?

Finke: What I like most about writing for the Internet is how informal it is. I try to deliver news in a punchier, funnier, way. I enjoy calling some mogul a putz or a prick if he's acting unprofessionally.

Also, I like being able to post breaking news immediately and without filters, then update as more info comes in. I run my Web site a lot like the AP used to when I worked there. I'll even stop after a fourth update and do a complete "writethru" like the old days.

The result is that I'm chained to my computer and surgically attached to the phone all day and often all night. But I really am loving this. (Though everyone I know forwarded me that New York Times article about bloggers dying from stress and overwork. MYOB, BFFs.)

One of the things I like least about writing for the Internet is the feeling that my site is being watched way too closely and constantly. It freaks me out. I also dislike how some mainstream media and both Hollywood trades go out of their way not to give me credit for the stories I break. I try to be scrupulous about giving credit because I know how hurtful not giving it can be. I sound whiny, don't I?

IWM: Do you see DHD as a rival to Variety and Hollywood Reporter?

Finke: I don't think in those terms. I'm not a victim of testosterone. But, for some reason, they get all alpha male towards me. It doesn't help our relationship that Hollywood is eager to have more industry media competition, not less. Besides, we're very different outlets.

They're led around the nose by the studios and networks who constantly advertise in their pages and online and expect very favorable coverage in return. The trades criticize no one in Hollywood. Every movie or TV show is a hit to them. They publish nothing without Big Media's consent. It's a mutant strain of journalism. No way I'll ever get infected by it.

Reading my site is a lot like drinking a truth serum. Unfortunately, a lot of my candor also comes packaged in bluntness. As long as I'm an accurate and responsible journalist, I can keep getting away with providing Hollywood the kind of business news humilitainment it seems to crave but won't ever get from the trades.

IWM: What's your take on Sharon Waxman's new The Wrap?

Finke: It's not on my radar. If it ever starts breaking news, and then doing it day after day, hour after hour, it will be. But that's hard. I wish her well.

IWM: Why did Defamer close?

Finke: Because TMZ started up and did that celebutante crap better. And because Gawker empire owner Nick Denton found that just aggregating others' posts isn't as in demand nowadays as original content sites, like my own Deadline Hollywood Daily.

IWM: Would you consider contributing to Huffington Post?

Finke: As what? Last time I looked, I have my own media outlet. But Arianna and her people have been and continue to be very kind to pick up my posts quite frequently -- considering I trashed her site first day out. But I stand by that review because she originally envisioned HuffPo as a forum for both sides of the political spectrum to opine. And I felt that was never realistic without journalists doing it, like Politico has done.

Also, 99 percent of the original moguls and celebs she expected to blog never did that first day and never have. But she's quick on her feet. Arianna changed HuffPo to an aggregate site that's a safe zone for liberals with a little bit of original content thrown in to generate links. But the blogging part of HuffPo still isn't working for me. I've never heard of 95 percent of the people who write in that left-hand margin.

IWM: How does DHD make money? Do you own the site or does host LA Weekly?

Finke: I own the site. I "rent" it to Village Voice Media, parent company of LA Weekly, and the newspaper sells all the advertising for it and keeps all that revenue for itself minus the bimonthly fixed payment I receive for my work on DHD and my weekly newspaper column, Deadline Hollywood, that runs in LA Weekly.

It makes no difference if my traffic goes up and down, I get the same money. I wanted that security. What I like best about the arrangement is that they leave me alone. Completely and utterly. Also, I never ask, and no one ever tells me, who's advertising so I'm never influenced by that.

A lot of Hollywood site owners/writers/editors get integrally involved in seeking advertising, and their coverage reflects that. Not just small bloggers the LA Times is always sending its editor and publisher around Hollywood to lunch with the moguls, and together they beg for movie advertising. I find that revolting.

IWM: The Los Angeles Times, as part of the redo of its arts and entertainment editorial, plans to launch a blog to report breaking entertainment news. Is that meant to be rival to DHD?

Finke: I have no idea. I can't believe a giant newspaper about to devote 50+ reporters and editors in the paper and online to mostly showbiz stories gives a rat's ass about my site. But they've lost huge chunks of Hollywood readership already, and it'll be hard to get them back. I just wish they would focus more attention on putting out a less boring and more aggressive product. The paper sucks.

IWM: Rupert Murdoch is reportedly interested in buying the LA Times. A smart move?

Finke: Oh, puh-leeze. One minute he wants the Wall Street Journal, next it's the New York Times, now it's the LA Times? I think there should be a shareholder revolt if he buys one more newsosaur. Talk about an inchoate business strategy. He spent years plotting to buy DirecTV. And then soon after he gets it, he hands it to John Malone. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances. But who does that?

I think there should be a support group started for stockholders addicted to companies where there's no independent say in how they're run. Sumner Redstone's tyranny is even worse than Rupert's. Because he's an even crazier old coot.

IWM: You insist you're not a blogger. How do you prefer to describe yourself?

Finke: Mostly as someone who works 24/7 and is sleep-deprived. Or as a former debutante gone wrong. Or as a Hollywood dominatrix, the legal kind. But, seriously, to me bloggers are those people writing about what they ate for breakfast that morning or what they watched on TV last night.

I always describe myself as a journalist first and foremost. Because that's what I've always been, am, and will be. I use the same reporting methods now, only with even more transparency, that I used at the AP domestically and overseas, with Newsweek in Washington D.C., with the Los Angeles Times, with the New York Observer, and with New York magazine. My site is the daily version of my weekly newspaper column. Hence the name Deadline Hollywood Daily.




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