The New York Times has finally picked a new Hollywood correspondent and, drumroll please, it’s Sharon Waxman, the Los Angeles–based Style section entertainment writer for the Washington Post, L.A. Weekly has learned exclusively.
Sources in New York and Washington, D.C., say that new NYT features czar Adam Moss called October 17 to offer the coveted position to Waxman and that she formally accepted it on Thursday. That night, she told the Post that she would be leaving.
In the end, Waxman apparently made the decision because the Post tends to be ignored in Hollywood, and as a result her work isn’t as high-profile as some of her colleagues.
“I wasn’t eager to leave the Post at all. In fact, I’m very sorry to leave a paper I love,” she told L.A. Weekly Friday morning. “But I felt like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be able to write for a paper like the Times that has such a broad platform in the industry and is read here every day on a subject that I’ve spent a lot of time getting my arms around.”
She will start her new job in November.
So ends a drawn-out, nerve-racking hiring process for what may well be the most important media job in Hollywood, and certainly the most influential. It caps months of e-mailing or talking to candidates, as L.A. Weekly first reported last April (See “King of Hollywood“). At first, The Wall Street Journal’s show-biz columnist Tom King was considered the first choice. Then a shortlist was compiled, including Los Angeles Times editor-writer Michael Cieply, Los Angeles magazine writer Amy Wallace, and Wall Street Journal staff reporter Bruce Orwall.
After L.A. Weekly disclosed Waxman was also on the list, Post editors began a full-court press to convince their eight-year employee to stay put. Sources say that, among the jobs discussed were Reliable Sources columnist and national correspondent. The drama heightened after Times executive editor Howell Raines was replaced by Bill Keller and it became clear that filling the Hollywood vacancy was going to be delayed. (See “Kellerwood“) Since the previous correspondent, Rick Lyman, had left Los Angeles for New York in July, real worries surfaced about a yawning gap for the Times’ Hollywood coverage, especially in the period leading up to the earlier-than-usual Academy Awards in February.
In August, Keller promoted New York Times Magazine editor and associate managing editor Adam Moss to be assistant managing editor for features, a new position overseeing the Culture and Style sections, the Magazine, the Book Review, Travel, Circuits, Real Estate, Escapes and special sections. After getting his footing, Moss made filling the Hollywood job a priority. Meanwhile, Waxman had become the first choice of Times cultural news editor Steven Erlanger, sources tell L.A. Weekly. It wasn’t surprising, since both journalists had so much in common having both been foreign correspondents.
Waxman met with Erlanger in New York and with Jodi Kantor, the editor of the Times Arts & Leisure section, in Los Angeles. Then, in September, Waxman visited the Times newsroom for interviews with Keller and Moss. Demonstrating just how competitive it is between the Times and the Post, sources tell L.A. Weekly that the Washington Post knew Waxman was in enemy territory before she had left the building.
Waxman has been on a roll. A year ago, she secured a book contract from William Morrow to write about Hollywood’s so-called rebel directors, including Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, David O. Russell, Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher. The book will explore their lives and the people around them, how they made their way into the movie world, and how they managed to vanquish the studio system. Waxman took a book leave this summer to research and write.
Waxman, who grew up in Ohio, has three children and a husband in the catering business. Her journey to Hollywood has been roundabout. Armed with a B.A. in English literature from Barnard, a master’s in philosophy from Oxford’s St. Antony’s College, and fluency in French, Hebrew and Arabic, Waxman first came to the Washington Post as an intern on the foreign desk. Soon she went to work for Reuters as a Jerusalem correspondent. Her next stop was Paris, where she worked as a freelancer.
In November 1995, she moved to L.A. with a full-time contract to cover entertainment for the Post Style section, the first such position at the paper. After several years, she was made a Post staffer. Since 9/11, the newspaper has sent Waxman to the Middle East several times, including a stint in post-war Iraq.
As far as Hollywood coverage goes, Waxman could be characterized as a fair but tough reporter in an industry notorious for co-opting and manipulating journalists. Several moguls readily acknowledge that, in the beginning, she was relentless in trying time after time to arrange for get-to-know-you interviews with them. To her credit, she’s not known for being in the pocket of any particular Hollywood studio or executive. On the other hand, she is seen as weak in her knowledge of the business side of entertainment. So it’s fortunate that the Times has Business section writer Laura Holson in the L.A. bureau, plus a small army back in NYC, to do that coverage.
Some of Waxman’s work for the Post has been the generic sit-down-with-the-movie-actor/director, which is the kind of writing and reporting where one Hollywood article is indistinguishable from another. But her Style section writing has won several awards, including the prestigious Penney Award in 2000, the highest prize in feature writing, and was nominated for a 1999 Pulitzer Prize.
One of Waxman’s first stories to gain attention was an in-depth look at the controversial Golden Globes. While the article covered old ground, it did unearth some new controversies and led to changes within the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. She also has held her own in the various causes célèbres that occasionally roust the entertainment business. She has written tough stuff about Motion Picture Association of America honcho Jack Valenti, about West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, and about Miramax chieftain Harvey Weinstein. During the Beautiful Mind Oscar brouhaha, not only did Miramax target her but Waxman even weathered personal attacks from other journalists who disagreed with her point of view, including what she said at the time was a screaming phone call from USA Today’s Andy Seiler.
Waxman also manages to keep a sense of humor about the bizarreness of covering Hollywood. During a WashingtonPost.com “Live Online” chat, Waxman once described her own Oscar night activity this way: “For the record, the Washington Post Reporters Rulebook says that reporters are allowed to dance at parties they are covering if it is past midnight and they’ve had a few of those Veuve Cliquots.”