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New York Times Searches…Ovitz Screeches 

Thursday, Nov 11 2004
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Attention, all you TV and movie freelancers for The New York Times suddenly writing daily: Your absurdly low-paying gigs for the world’s most overedited newspaper may soon be few and far between. That’s because the freshly super-sized Culture section is finally and formally looking to replace you near-anonymous wannabes with more staff television and movie beat reporters, including someone "exceptionally scrupulous, incorruptible and thick-skinned" to co-cover Hollywood, according to a department memo obtained by L.A. Weekly.

Of course, readers of this column have known since August that the NYT planned to add these jobs. Too bad the editors have taken their sweet time about it. In the meantime, the Culture section has been filled with the obscure bylines of veritable hordes of freelancers, who for a few measly dollars puff out their chests and pretend they work for the NYT when we all know better.

The result has been to unnecessarily dilute the power of the real NYT staff writers covering Hollywood. Jeez, didn’t anyone in the newsroom of the Gray Lady ever bother to take even a rudimentary course in the importance of branding?

Culture News editor Jonathan Landman’s memo announcing the job search perfects the art of ridicule by insulting the very people the movie reporter will cover. And he makes the post sound about as appealing as replacing Roy Horn: "Hollywood conducts business with journalists in ways that do not necessarily fit the journalistic worldview on display in our ‘Ethical Journalism’ booklet," he smirks. "You will be attacked. All errors, however innocent, will be caught and parsed for meaning. It’s hard to think of a posting this side of Jerusalem that subjects its inhabitants to closer (and harsher) inspection. But it’s a hell of an interesting gig."

The movie job, based in Los Angeles, will share the beat with the current NYT Hollywood correspondent, Sharon Waxman. But it appears the NYT will look farther a field than just the usual suspects who cover the Industry at Variety and the Los Angeles Times. (We nonetheless anticipate further carpet bombing in the ongoing LAT vs. NYT war.)

Landman stresses that "some knowledge of the movie industry would be nice, but we do not need an established Hollywood person here." In practical terms that means that, if selected, a show-biz neophyte will need a year to get up to speed. Nonsensical.

The second job, covering TV, turns out to be Jim Rutenberg’s. "It is Jim’s if he wants it back, but he probably won’t so I am posting it with his permission," says Landman, referring to Rutenberg’s recent assignment covering media and the 2004 campaign.

Based in New York, the TV post involves working with Bill Carter et al. at "a great moment for this beat because television is at such an interesting juncture," says Landman. True, considering that L.A. Weekly hears about the screaming matches between Carter and his new-ish editor, Steve Reddicliffe. The bad blood between them goes back years.

Meanwhile, Landman teased that the paper has already filled its third expansion slot, a new Hollywood television reporter "whose name we will announce shortly." This is the replacement for L.A.-based Bernie Weinraub, who retires in February. When we contacted the person rumored to have the job, we received an impassioned denial.

Finally, we can’t help but wonder if Landman is joking when he says his newspaper is "now undermanned" covering TV and movies. We’ve pointed out previously that this sudden money-is-no-object attitude to adding personnel in Culture is a shocker since NYT’s stock price continues its downward spiral. There was something noble about the NYT’s quaint custom of "Do More With Less." Now it’s copying the LAT’s way of staffing, which is "Do Less With More."

Then, there’s the contradiction inherent when newspapers try to court more TV and movie advertising with more TV and movie coverage. It’s a no-win situation. The more the networks and studios buy half- and full-pages, the more they expect to control editorial and the madder they become when NYT reporters tell them to "Shove it."

Also, NYT sources tell L.A. Weekly that Laura Holson is suddenly in the crosshairs of Michael Ovitz’s lawyers. The business reporter has done an excellent if circumspect job covering the shareholders’ lawsuit against Ovitz, Michael Eisner, and various Disney boards going on, and on, and on, in a backwater town in Delaware. But sources say Ovitz hasn’t liked her coverage of the trial, during which testimony has portrayed him as a — GASP! — cheat and liar. L.A. Weekly hears that Ovitz’s lawyers have tried to put heat on the NYT about Holson’s reporting, and especially about her dredging up that Vanity Fair giggle about Ovitz railing against Hollywood’s "Gay Mafia" for bringing him down. Ovitz himself tried to corner her at the trial to complain, but the paper is having none of it. (Ovitz has a long history of complaining about the reporters who cover him.) So now a nasty little gossip item about Holson suddenly shows up in the NY Post’s Page Six. Lest anyone forget, Ovitz’s PR flack for years was Howard Rubenstein, who reps the New York Post.

Reached by L.A. Weekly, Holson declined any comment.

E-mail at deadlinehollywood@gmail.com.

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