Interview: Nikki Finke

Nikki Finke, veteran entertainment journalist, has written for LA Weekly since 2002. She also writes a daily version of her Deadline Hollywood column on the Web. She chats with PRWeek about her experiences in the industry.

PRWeek: Tell me a little bit about your current positions?

Nikki Finke: I have a weekly column about the business of the entertainment industry in LA Weekly. I've been there since 2002. And I started this daily version of my column on the Internet. My column is Deadline Hollywood and the Internet [version] is Deadline Hollywood Daily. My background is I'm a veteran journalist. I've been on staff with the Associated Press, Newsweek, and the Los Angeles Times. I've been a foreign correspondent, Washington correspondent, bureau chief, and features and entertainment writer. I've won a lot of awards.

PRWeek: How did you decide to have a daily version of your column online?

Finke: When I joined LA Weekly, they had a homepage, and that was it. And I wanted to break stories online, so I started using their homepage to write stories. The problem was that going through the system took forever and I had a story and it would take five hours, on a good day, to get it posted. It was crazy. So then they started getting into the blog world. I see my site as a Web site, not a blog; it's just my own distinction. From the very beginning, I wanted it to be an original content news site, and that is what I have done. I don't aggregate very much, in fact, hardly at all, because I can't guarantee what other people are saying and I don't want to suffer their mistakes. I can only guarantee my own reporting and I am very proud of my accuracy rate.

PRWeek: How has the online space grown and changed since you started Deadline Hollywood Daily?

Finke: I started my blog exactly three years ago this month [March], and I started it on a Friday, learned how to use it on Saturday, and Sunday was the Oscars in 2006. And everybody picked up my live-blogging of the Oscars and [the site's hosts] were not prepared for the traffic. That gave us a clue. It's been quite extraordinary. This month, I think I'm going past 50 million unique [users], which is extraordinary. This is a site that isn't marketed; it's all been word-of-mouth.

PRWeek: Are you on Twitter, Facebook, or other social networks?

Finke: I have not been on Facebook or MySpace; it's just too much trouble. There has been no marketing of this [Web site]. I only started doing Twitter yesterday. I'm not certain what added value that is. I have a site. People come to it, so why do they have to come to another site? They can come to my site. On the other hand, it does allow me to add information that I don't do there, but I'm just not certain of it. In my mind, the more I'm thinking about it, the more I want people to just come to my site. I don't know what the point is of having another site.

PRWeek: How have things like YouTube and changed the entertainment industry?

Finke: YouTube is for people, and just it is being used as branding and marketing and all that, but it's also used by regular people. Hulu is the future. Hulu is how big media is going to get out their new media and…from my point of view, the question is, 'Will all of this replace so much of what we've come to know in the entertainment business, like reruns?' People make money on that [reruns]: actors, writers, directors, producers. People get very large payments for having their stuff rerun. Big media has ensured that those same people who created that content get very small payments [for online content]. They are like "virtual payments" for that content on new media and this is a real have-and-have-not situation. I think Hollywood thought this was figured out a long time ago, and it's not. You are going to continue to see immense labor strife in this town over these decisions.

PRWeek: What do you think about how networks put their content up online?

Finke: Well one of the things that perplexes me is the inconsistency of big media in putting their content online. A lot of it has to do with their deals with various companies or producers or writers. It's crazy that there is no Law & Order up on Hulu, from NBC. And you go to CBS and they are running clips of shows. There are many series where they're not running entire shows. That is totally perplexing. Then you go on to iTunes and The Big Bang Theory from CBS is a Warner Bros. show, so it's not a CBS show, but they only have [available] the first season. They don't have any part of the second season yet. There is also some tricky stuff being done, for instance, to kind of get around some of the agreements they've made with the Hollywood guilds, there is certain content that is only being shown before or after a certain time. They're really looking for every loophole of these contracts.

PRWeek: What are some issues or stories that you are really passionate about following in the entertainment industry?

Finke: The labor issues are fascinating because they are only told from one point of view by most of the media, which is from the big media's point of view, because they are all beholden to big media for advertising…I've been the only one doing stories about all the controversy involving the IATSE Hollywood Locals (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees). This was the most contested contract ratification ever. Now it looks like no doubt it is going to pass, nobody really thought it wouldn't, but there was a lot of Sturm und Drang over it. And no one covered it, except me. It took the LA Times months to get on this story, and they did one story. My [point of view] on this is different and I think my continued coverage of Hollywood agencies and the back stories of what is really happening with the executives at the top of the networks and at the top of the Hollywood studios, this to me is the lifeblood of the entertainment business. It always amazes me, because the Wall Street analysts, when they look at these companies, they look at the numbers. But so much of Hollywood is not about the numbers. Hollywood is about the relationships and the interconnectedness of everything, whether it's the people or companies, and I'm fascinated by that and nobody really covers that.

PRWeek: You also report on entertainment and Hollywood PR agencies. What is that like?

Finke: I love doing the PR agencies. They escape scrutiny, and I think it's laziness on the part of reporters. What is hilarious about it is that it's like pulling teeth to get information about them. But now people come to me with announcements and everything. It's fascinating because one agency will claim that we are signing this and it is wonderful, [saying] we're really in the comedy business now. And then you immediately get all the e-mails from the rival PR agencies with their spin, which is "Oh, that's ridiculous." There is intense rivalry and that is like mother's milk to me, I love that. It's interesting. They are getting over their nervousness with me about being covered and they've accepted it. The Pat Kingsley story was a huge story. It was the end of an era and her setting up her own shop and all that. They are still trying to figure out clients. Obviously, I've been the only one reporting about layoffs at the big Hollywood PR agencies. What I keep hearing over and over is that if you stay lean and mean, you can weather all of this. It is the big bloated PR agencies that are having the most trouble.

PRWeek: When PRWeek interviewed you in 2005, you said you are "every PR person's nightmare." Has that changed? Or how do you interact with PR professionals now?

Finke: First of all, I continue to call them flacks, flackery, mouthpieces, and they're not thrilled with that. What is interesting is that we have found a way to sort of get along. They were very upset in the beginning. Last year, I was shocked when the Publicists Guild, they nominate five people to receive their award every year, and I was one of them. I'm like, 'What are these people doing? Don't they read me?'

I wrote about it: A Case Of Piss-Poor PR By Publicists Guild.

Name: Nikki Finke

Title: Hollywood business columnist

Outlets: LA Weekly;

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