By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
If only the Bush administration could convince The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times to offer employment to everyone. After two of Hollywood’s highest-profile media jobs were finally filled this past week, some lucky entertainment journalists, just for being courted, scored bigger pay and better gigs.
After a drawn-out and nerve-wracking hiring process, the NYT picked a new Hollywood correspondent and, as L.A. Weekly reported exclusively on October 24, it’s Sharon Waxman, the Washington Post’s Style section entertainment writer. Even more tortuous was the LAT’s prolonged hunt to replace Pulitzer-winning television critic Howard Rosenberg since candidate after candidate turned down the position. The paper even lost columnist Brian Lowry to Variety when he wasn’t offered the job. It got so bad that TV editor Jonathan Taylor began interviews by saying, “We don’t want to get burned again. So we want to know that you’ll take the job before we offer it to you,” according to Time magazine’s James Poniewozik.
On Monday, a disappointed job seeker whom Taylor denied the gig leaked the news that the LAThad settled on Entertainment Weekly writer and critic Carina Chocano. Described in a staff memo as “an exciting new talent,” Times features czar John Montorio went on to praise her as “a distinctive writer with a delightfully original sensibility and a wonderful grasp of popular culture in all its dimensions.”
Waxman and Chocano, both already based in L.A., will start their new jobs in November.
While the well-known Waxman’s hiring got a thumbs-up in Hollywood, the no-profile Chocano’s anointment prompted many a “Who the hell is that?” But Internet talent spotters knew her work from Salon.com, where the former children’s CD-ROM writer rode the reality-show wave to fame from 1999 to the start of 2003. At E.W. less than a year, Chocano wasn’t there long enough to become a star. On Monday, nervous about being interviewed, Chocano declined to tell L.A. Weekly why she wanted the LAT job. She divulged only that her favorite TV shows are HBO’s The Sopranosand Six Feet Under, and Fox’s Arrested Development.
Adam Moss, NYT’s assistant managing editor for features, called October 17 to offer the coveted position to Waxman, who accepted it because the Post is off Hollywood’s radar. “I’m very sorry to leave a paper I love,” she told L.A. Weekly. “But I felt like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be able to write for a paper like the Timesthat has such a broad platform in the industry and is read here every day.”
Yeah, yeah, but the real story is what happened to those journalists who were in the running for one or the other jobs.
The Wall Street Journal’s show-biz columnist, Tom King, was first choice to wear The New York Times’ Hollywood crown, but he stayed loyal — and was rewarded for it before his untimely death last spring. Then a short list was compiled, including Los Angeles Times editor-writer Michael Cieply, Los Angeles magazine writer Amy Wallace, and Wall Street Journal staff reporter Bruce Orwall. Again, all used the NYT’s feelers to feather their nests a bit more luxuriously.
After Waxman’s name first surfaced in L.A. Weekly, Post editors moved quickly to convince their eight-year employee to stay put. Not only were such carrots as the Style section’s Reliable Sources columnist and even national-desk correspondent dangled in front of her, but the paper forked over a fat (and unsolicited) pay raise.
Waxman met with New York Times cultural news editor Steven Erlanger in New York, and with Jodi Kantor, the editor of the NYT’s Arts & Leisure section, in Los Angeles. Then, in September, Waxman visited the Times newsroom for interviews with executive editor Bill Keller and newly named Moss, who was still finding his footing. Demonstrating just how competitive it is between the Times and the Post, sources told L.A. Weeklythat the Washington Post knew Waxman was in enemy territory before she had left the building.
Waxman quickly emerged as Erlanger’s first choice — both had been foreign correspondents and had a lot in common — and he pushed his bosses to make an offer before he took a three-week Mediterranean vacation. He was still on holiday when he got word.
Meanwhile, back at the L.A. Times, Entertainment Weekly TV critic Ken Tucker immediately became features czar John Montorio’s number-one candidate to replace Rosenberg. Tucker declined comment, but sources say he kept the LAT hanging for months — to the point where the newspaper offered him a prized slot not just once but twice. Tucker’s pals say he used the LAT’s feverish pursuit to negotiate an even more high-profile position at E.W. “If he wouldn’t move from Philly to New York for E.W., what made the Times think he’d move from Philly to Los Angeles?” wondered one bemused colleague.