MEDIA PROFILE: Zap2it.com brings select entertainment news to big audience

Despite its small staff, Zap2it.com delivers the latest TV and movie news, sometimes even beating the trades to the punch. And its link with the wire services makes it an attractive pitch.

Despite its small staff, Zap2it.com delivers the latest TV and movie news, sometimes even beating the trades to the punch. And its link with the wire services makes it an attractive pitch.

"Everybody has a love-hate relationship with their television," says Brill Bundy. And, as managing editor of a website that serves up enough TV news to fuel both emotions, she should know. Though its name doesn't leap to mind as a powerhouse of entertainment journalism, Zap2it.com's coverage of movies and TV regularly appears in some of the nation's largest newspapers. Part of Tribune Media Services, the site's stories are syndicated on the Knight Ridder-Tribune wire, and reach more than 400 newspapers. As a result, its editorial sensibility is more populist than you might expect from an outlet that covers an industry that tends to be insidery and dishy. For instance, Zap2it's editors aren't interested in a story about a departing publicity head at a studio because, as Bundy says, "a reader in Kansas wouldn't care about it." Such an appeal to readers in flyover country would of course be sacrilege to an editor at Variety or The Hollywood Reporter. But Zap2it, just a couple years old in its current incarnation, treads only some of the same ground as these publications. In sharp contrast to these venerable trades, the site only wants insider news with broad appeal, and it doesn't want gossip. "We're bringing industry news to the general public," says Bundy. "What we try to do is find the nuggets about casting, development deals, and pilots that are in the works or movie scripts that are going on, and take that to people who are really interested in it. We do some celebrity stuff: So-and-so got married, so-and-so's getting divorced - but we stay away from gossip." Bundy says that Zap2it's profile with PR people has grown substantially in the site's brief life. Whereas she once had to introduce and explain the site to PR people, she is now regularly getting pitches. And, she says the pitches are typically pretty appropriate for the site's editorial standards. "We have a really great relationship with the industry and the publicists," she says. The attraction for PR people isn't just the site's 2.4 million unique visitors. It's also the attraction of the wire. Says Bundy, "When publicists get print clips, that gives you a certain validation in their eyes." The stories that get the most pickup depend on the media. The TV coverage that's most popular with newspapers tends to be newsy, while the most popular movie coverage is the features. Unlike some entertainment news outlets, Zap2it doesn't insist on exclusives, though the editors certainly appreciate them, and the site had had its share. It broke the news that Sarah Michelle Gellar was leaving the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer before both TVGuide and Entertainment Weekly. "It gives you a great bang for a day, and it's very exciting. But I don't think when you're a daily site you need it on a consistent basis," she says. Zap2it puts out a lot of news (more than 20 stories a day), and is produced by a staff that executive director Greg Baerg calls "lean and mean. There are very few places where you can get as much news at one time," he says. Unlike many of its competitors, the site's trim workforce isn't a result of the cutbacks that have plagued the media industry during the recession. Baerg says that its owners resisted throwing money at the site during the dot-com boom. Instead of a swollen staff that had to be lanced with layoffs during the crash, the site and its staff have survived, avoiding the kind of flameout that did in sites such as Inside.com. Zap2it began its life in 1995 as UltimateTV. The daily TV news site was bought by Tribune Media Services in 1999, at the same time the movie news-site MovieQuest debuted. The two were merged into Zap2it in May 2000. The site was recently redesigned in order to better integrate what had been distinct content sections. The redesign added a host of new features, including lists of the most-searched movies and trailers, and top-rated TV shows. It also expanded its video area and added prime-time TV listings. Its database was redesigned to better link content. In the future, Baerg says, he'd like to increase the site's interactivity. "We want to create the ability on the site for readers to interact more with each other and through polls, and add more user-generated content," he says. ----- Contact list Zap2it.com Address 3340 Ocean Park Boulevard, Suite 1060, Santa Monica, CA 90405 Tel (310) 581-5011 E-mail firstinitiallastname@zap2it.com Executive director Greg Baerg Managing editor Brill Bundy Managing editor-movies Michael Szymanski Executive producer Heather Feher Freelance/TV writer Daniel Fienberg Writer/producers Rick Porter (TV), Vanessa Sibbald (movies)

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