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Warning: The Waxman Cometh

Warning: The Waxman Cometh

At the Santa Barbara Film Fest I saw Peter Jones’ provocative doc Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times, about L.A.’s grand newspaper family. In the context of the dire conditions facing that once-great paper today, the movie had resonance. At the Q & A afterward, former publisher Tom Johnson and the late Otis Chandler’s son Harry sadly had to admit that the future of journalism is no longer in print but online.

Staking her claim on the entertainment side of that online future is Sharon Waxman, a 22-year veteran reporter who grabs onto stories like a terrier and shakes them to the ground. She left the Washington Post in 2003 to become Hollywood correspondent for the New York Times, and took a leave from that gig on July 1, 2008 to write her book on Middle East antiquities, Loot. During that time she contributed intermittently to her entertainment blog, Waxword. After she left the Times for good in January 2008, she raised $500,000 in seed money to start online showbiz news site The Wrap.com, which finally launched after several weeks delay on Monday.

Over the past six months, Waxman has raised an undisclosed sum from Seattle-based Maveron; and has been hiring staff in LA and NY (nine and counting). Former Variety.com and Hollywood.com exec Kevin Davis has been Waxman’s interim COO. Tim Doyle is managing editor and ex-LAT staffer Maria Russo, deputy editor. Media’s loss of journos has been Waxman’s gain, as she doles out assignments to “contributors” who have what she calls “authoritative voices,” such as Kim Masters (ex-Premiere and NPR), Devin Leonard (Fortune), Andrew Gumbel (The Independent), Nicole Laporte (ex-Variety), and Johanna Neuman (LAT). Ex-Defamer editor Mark Lisanti is also on board.

Waxman is spending money and paying competitive rates, but going in, she had no idea she was starting a business during a recession. Her business model: ads, sponsorships and syndication. She figures as newspapers decline they will need to buy her stories–she wants to compete not only in the trade space, but with the A.P.

The Wrap seeks to weigh in on big topics, engage its readership interactively, and bring in voices from the Hollywood community. “I want to be a leader in the conversation about how technology is transfiguring the the industry,” says Waxman, “and for The Wrap to be informative and essential for the entertainment industry professional.”

She promises to “ruffle feathers” as she goes, as part of an “honest conversation.” We’ll see if that’s how her subjects see it.

The first banner headline of Waxman’s front page (under various category headings) reads: Hollywood: Change or Bust. Her story posits that the rise of Internet could mean the end of Hollywood:

Those cracks are evidenced in the broad changes in consumer behavior set in motion by Google, Facebook, YouTube, Digg and a host of other new companies that for the most part did not even exist a decade ago.

Some worry that Hollywood’s very survival is at stake. True or not, the changes have already ushered in a cast of new characters that dominate the decisions individuals make about how they spend their leisure time. Millennial-generation digital entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Kevin Rose of Digg are displacing once-omnipotent Hollywood players such as DreamWorks’ David Geffen, who has just retired, or Michael Eisner, the former Disney mogul who has remade himself and is now a minor figure in the world of new media.

Waxman also posts a Q & A with Sundance chief Geoff Gilmore at the end of the Sundance Film Fest, which she did not attend. Because she needed to get the site up and running, Waxman sent cub reporter Amy Kaufman to the fest. So she wrote up the Dowd vs. Anderson “blow by blow” without links to any prior reports (yes, including mine) and called producer’s rep Dowd a “veteran publicist,” a mistake made by earlier blogs on the incident. Waxman insists Kaufman did her own reporting.

For all her talk about the future of cooperative Internet journalism, Waxman doesn’t seem to get online etiquette. Or the need to take the time to check facts: her team was in such a rush Thursday morning to post the Oscar nominations that their initial Oscar story boasted errors such as “Thirteen Oscar noms to ‘Benjamin Buttons’; they had to email-blast a correction announcing that Sony Classics received five nominations. We all make mistakes and benefit from editing, those of us who get it. (Most bloggers don’t.) But at this point, Waxman is building credibility for her site.

Aside from several feature stories and Kaufman’s take on the weekend boxoffice, most of the other Wrap content is aggregated from other sources. Guest blogger Tom Benedek photographs the old CAA building, while Roberta Marie Munroe’s post, filed before Sundance, is still up, and ex-LAT columnist Howard Rosenberg compares pjtv.com’s Samuel J. Wurzelbacher to Joe the Plumber. Clearly, this is a soft launch (several clicks yield “page not found”) with much more to come. I look forward to the “Oprah Watch.”

Here’s Waxman’s editorial intro:

Welcome to TheWrap. A year ago I left The New York Times with a sinking feeling about what was happening to professional journalism.

Today we launch with great optimism what I hope will become an exciting new space to cover Hollywood in the digital age. TheWrap seeks to use the myriad tools of the web to marry top quality journalism ‚Äì breaking news, trends, features, interviews ‚Äì with the input of the talented and sophisticated community that creates the world’s popular culture.

The time is fortuitous. As our lead story today indicates, the entertainment and media industries are at a fateful crossroads. TheWrap will be a resource for anyone who is interested in understanding the changes in our popular culture, and navigating what has become a global industry.

We need your help to do it. TheWrap seeks to build the best, most dynamic, most discerning community of entertainment professionals and enthusiasts around the world. We seek to be both authoritative and entertaining – yes, it can be done – and know that our content will be enriched by our readers as they comment on our stories, contribute their own blogs and connect to one another.

We believe entertainment matters. It matters because popular culture is a multi-billion dollar industry, American’s number one export, and a source of connection, employment, passion and aspiration for millions of people across the globe. Movies, television, music, games, media ‚Äì these represent the common language that unites us as human beings. Entertainment reflects our world, and it shapes it.

So that’s why we built TheWrap. We believe it’s time for a substantive, independent and intelligent voice to write about the business of entertainment. And we believe that voice should be at home on the web.

Please consider this a conversation. A dialogue. We will make mistakes, and you will point them out. We will ruffle feathers, as that’s part of an honest conversation. But we hope most of all that you will participate. Write. Comment. Share. And join us in the digital age.

Sharon Waxman 

Editor in Chief

Here’s the infomercial Waxman has posted on YouTube, getting such industry folks as Mike Binder, Leslie Moonves, Mike White, Mary Parent, Peter Broderick and Linda Lichter to shill for her new site:

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