The Wall Street Journal's Brooks Barnes has just been seduced by the New York Times, it'll be announced soon— and also by Los Angeles. From out there, he'll cover the film industry for the New York Times's Biz section. This will be much-needed reinforcement in the paper's battle with the LA Times—for years, New York was gaining an upper hand. But recently, things have not gone well for our hometown paper on that other coast. For one thing, arts and television reporter Edward Wyatt has been dying in Los Angeles.
His most recent television articles—a piece on May 27 on the Fox sitcom 'Til Death, a story about Bob Barker's TV specials on May 15—were merely forgettable, but some of his pieces are eyebrow-raising for their cluelessness.
On Saturday, April 28, the New York Times ran an article, "Well-Known
Secret: 'Grey's Anatomy' Spinoff for ABC," by Wyatt. In the article about Grey's Anatomy, Wyatt wrote, "Like a doting parent trying to hide a child's Christmas bike under the bed, ABC has been pretending to hope that no one notices what could be its biggest winner in next fall's television season, a spinoff of its hit nighttime soap opera 'Grey's Anatomy... Despite the buzz being generated by a potential spinoff of its highest-rated scripted show, executives at the ABC network and its television studio have refused to talk publicly about the new venture."
The next day, Sunday, April 29, the front page of the Los Angeles Times' Calendar section was devoted to the Grey's Anatomy spinoff. It featured quotes from, among others, ABC's entertainment president, Stephen McPherson, and Shonda Rhimes, the creator of the series.
And in a piece of Wyatt's about Lost on May 8, he wrote, "ABC declined to make its executives and the show's creators available for interviews." But the LAT managed to get both of the show's executive producers, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, to give quotes in the article by Maria Elena Fernandez that ran the same day.
"He doesn't have a tremendous number of contacts," said one L.A. executive in the industry of Wyatt. "I don't look at that as a failing on his part! It takes awhile to develop those relationships." Wyatt appears to have written his first story on his new beat in March, 2006 ("Smithsonian-Showtime Deal Raises Concerns"), though people out west had the perception that he had been on the beat for a much shorter time.
"Ask me in three months what I think of him, and I'll be able to give you a better answer," this executive said.
At the New York Times, as at the Los Angeles Times, television is covered by both the Arts and Business desks. At the NYT, Jacques Steinberg and Bill Carter report to
Business editor Larry Ingrassia [they used to report to Ingrassia; they now report to the Culture desk]; Brooks Barnes will report to media editor Bruce Headlam, one of Ingrassia's deputies, on the Business desk. Wyatt, and Virginia Heffernan and poor Alessandra Stanley, report to Steve Reddicliffe, the culture TV editor, who's under Sam Sifton.
At the LAT, Maria Elena Fernandez, Martin Miller, Greg Braxton, Scott Collins, Lynn Smith and Matea Gold—all reporters—are edited by Kate Aurthur (who used to work at the NYT on the Arts & Leisure desk), while Meg James reports to Sallie Hofmeister on the Business desk. That's not counting the LAT's critics. Even as the LAT prepares to slim down, they remain bulked up on their home turf—a place where they think they can show up the NYT.
Wyatt's relative inexperience wouldn't be so noticeable if the rest of the NYT's entertainment coverage was strong. And that's why Barnes—who has a reputation as someone who breaks stories—has the potential to be something of a thorn in the LAT's side in writing about the film industry. For example, Sharon Waxman (who's on the Culture desk, though her stories often touch on business-related topics) has been basically blacklisted by at least a few Hollywood folk since September 2004, when she wrote an article for the Times, "The Nudist Buddhist Borderline-Abusive Love-In," about the director David O. Russell and his film I Heart Huckabees. The article was filled with details that Russell—rightly or wrongly; there's a lot of he-said, she-said here—thought were for Waxman's book Rebels on the Backlot. When they ended up in the Times, he was none too pleased.
Since then, Waxman's lack of sources has become a detriment to the paper's coverage of the industry—a very recent example is her piece on the box-office success of Pirates of the Caribbean
which (very logically) speculated that a fourth Pirates had to be in the works, given the success of the first three. Waxman quoted Mark Zoradi, president of Disney Studios marketing and distribution, an anonymous "film executive close to 'Pirates 3,' and Paul Dergarabedian, who runs a company called Media by Numbers, which tallies box-office receipts.
Meanwhile, the LAT's story had quotes from Disney studio chairman, Dick Cook (better than the head of marketing and distribution); Sony Pictures studio chairman Amy Pascal; Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer; and anonymous Sony executives.
Then there's the NYT's Bill Carter. Recently, Carter—who's been on the beat since the dawn of time—has had a few slip-ups that make it look like he's phoning it in. Take the recent incident involving Chris Albrecht, the HBO chairman forced to resign after allegedly beating the crap out of his girlfriend in Las Vegas; the LAT's Claudia Eller was the first to report that Albrecht had been accused of assault in 1991.
Later, Eller reported that Time Warner president Jeff Bewkes authorized a $500,000 payment to the woman, a settlement that raised eyebrows on the occasion of the company's annual meeting—will Bewkes be passed over for the head honcho job when Dick Parsons resigns? The NYT had nothing on the story.
Carter has trouble with HBO stories, for one, and also in getting stories when there's any whiff of scandal to them. Carter is also notorious for not giving credit to writers from other publications who break stories; compare, for example, Carter's coverage and its lack of credit to that of his new co-worker Barnes, always quick to slip in an acknowledgment. (Of course, both the NYT and the LAT both sometimes fail to give credit where it's due—take the recent firing of NBC's Kevin Reilly, which Nikki Finke reported on Deadline Hollywood before either publication; neither gave her credit.)
So, pre-Brooks, L.A. is up in the struggle. But what will happen next? When asked to compare the two papers' TV coverage, one critic (from neither publication), called the LAT's coverage "kinda schizophrenic. Sometimes, it's as sharp and as insider-y as it should be. At other times—well, look at the lead of this story. Wouldn't it be more appropriate in the Kansas City Star?"
(Disclosure: Gawker's Managing Editor takes a small bit of money from the LA Times, via the Calendar section (and has previously taken money from the New York Times via the culture section). Defamer's Mark Lisanti was called in to review this item.)