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Peter Bart and the Variety Shift (UPDATED)

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire April 6, 2009 at 9:50AM

As reported yesterday in Variety itself, Peter Bart will assume a new role at the magazine, as vice president and editorial director. In his new position Bart will report directly to Reed Business CEO Tad Smith, "assisting him in furthering Variety's editorial mission in print and online and expanding the brand's position in new revenue streams." Bart also will "continue to contribute his weekly column as well as his blog and serve as Variety's ambassador in public venues, on television, on the web and at industry events."
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As reported yesterday in Variety itself, Peter Bart will assume a new role at the magazine, as vice president and editorial director. In his new position Bart will report directly to Reed Business CEO Tad Smith, "assisting him in furthering Variety's editorial mission in print and online and expanding the brand's position in new revenue streams." Bart also will "continue to contribute his weekly column as well as his blog and serve as Variety's ambassador in public venues, on television, on the web and at industry events."

Timothy Gray, Variety's editor, will now assume the responsibilities for the news operation.

As translated on Anne Thompson's blog: "Good-bye to the old boss. Hello to the new boss. When times get tough, the tough move upstairs, is another way to look at it."

Thompson noted that Bart, aged 76, "built Variety into the dominant entertainment trade," demanding - and getting - excellence in the newsroom. "He hired sharp editors and reporters and pushed for top-flight reviews from all over the world," Thompson said. "Now, the days of printed newspapers are numbered. The future of the trades, which are under severe advertising duress during an unforgiving economy, is online. While Bart has simultaneously embraced and critiqued the new online world order, he leaves a powerful legacy to his successor Tim Gray. As vice president and editorial director of Variety, Bart will basically serve as editor emeritus and ambassador to the entertainment community as he blogs and delivers his weekly column."

While The Wrap's Sharon Waxman also reported on the story, it was Movie City News' David Poland that took a more critical look at the somewhat inevitable move and the context surrounding it, noting that it was "not quite a solution." "Bart was in the way of the future," Poland said. "Bart is no longer in the way of the future. But Variety has not answered the same question plaguing other Traditional Media outlets that have a much wider path on which to seek answers."

Poland wonders whether new media, which Bart "fiercely resisted," really is Variety's future. "The one thing the paper has that really differentiates it from the now endless stream of show business media out there IS the paper," he said. "45,000 subscriptions - whether or not more than 30% of those hard copies are being read anymore - is the only unique proposition that Variety has left... especially now that they have cut way back on the one other area where they had a unique proposition, a role as one of the few places to review virtually every film you might want to see reviewed."

While Poland deems Gray "a good man and a very good company man," he doesn't see him as the visionary of Variety's future. "He will keep the machine running and running with less personality issues than Bart, but he will surely be managing someone else’s idea of the future," Poland said.

He also goes on to explain how the way this story even broke is "indicative of the problems that face Variety, above and beyond revenue issues," relaying the timeline of how the story broke as an example of this new dawn of intense "scraping for exclusives." Variety's ran the story yesterday afternoon, followed by Nikki Finke claiming "she could have broken it but got jobbed by Tim Gray," followed by the noted Wrap and Anne Thompson stories, followed by himself "and others now and before me and after me."

"I’ve certainly had my share of scraping for position in my day," he says, "but now, it’s all day, every day, on every story. Who is first with which scrap and who are they crediting for the work they didn’t do, etc, etc, etc... The exclusive is becoming like a virgin counting which acts she/he has experienced so far. First kiss, first copped feel, first show and tell… all are EXCLUSIVE! these days."

The most interesting "show and tell" came later today via The Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein, who wrote a letter to Peter Bart on his blog.

"I know that when you write your memos to various stars when they've had a career stumble that you always offer some sage advice," Goldstein writes to Bart. "So let me give it a try, since you've been given the unenviable task of trying to reinvent the Variety brand. Here's a key thought: It's time to radically change the Variety style of covering Hollywood. Much as I'm sure you'd hate to admit it, since she's been just as mean to you as to everyone else -- me included -- Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood represents the most successful model in terms of generating Web traffic and buzz."

Do you agree?