“I’m not owned by anybody,” she said. “I’ll take on big media one minute and the next minute I’m praising the studios because they put out a movie that actually made money. I play it straight. I think people like that. I think people like that I’m not owned.”
The other day, The New York Times pointed out that many Hollywood writers and producers are inextricably connected, noting that “in a one-degree-of-separation town, a lot of Hatfields and McCoys are married, dating or related.” But Ms. Finke has very consciously extricated herself from this web, staying removed from the socializing and conflicts of interest that, in many ways, define Hollywood culture. “I don’t want to have dinner with these people,” she said. “I don’t want to be a part of their social life.” She’s the ultimate in uncompromised reporting; on her site, you never see the now journalistically ubiquitous, and always deflating, “full disclosure” clause, as in, “full disclosure: I play tennis with [so-and-so’s] husband in the Hamptons every summer.”
Writer John Aboud, who founded the Web site Modern Humorist and is now a panelist on Best Week Ever and various I Love the … shows on VH1, also blogs for United Hollywood. “It’s clear from reading Nikki Finke that she is appalled by hypocrisy,” Mr. Aboud told The Observer. “She is appalled by anyone’s hypocrisy. She’s appalled by people mindlessly parroting the party line. She calls people on it. She calls out bullshit. I think everyone respects that on both sides.”
Of course, this kind of lone wolfness can also breed a dangerous sense of infallibility or inflated sense of self. An AMPTP spokesman declined comment, but one studio executive told The Observer, “When an item comes up and she writes that it’s ‘more bullshit from the AMPTP’—well, at that point I kind of thought she lost her credibility.” This executive continued, “I think that she is helping to fuel an unhelpful rhetoric that has taken over this entire thing.”
Ms. Finke dismissed this executive’s criticism, telling The Observer, “I write things the writers hate me for. I write things the producers hate me for. They read it because they know they’re getting the truth. I’m not a propagandist.”
A marketing executive at a major studio, who did not wish to be named, told The Observer via e-mail that Deadline Hollywood had become an indispensable source of strike news—and implied that Ms. Finke’s power, already formidable in Hollywood, has only increased thanks to the strike.
“She is incredibly well sourced,” the marketing exec explained. “And she has no sacred cows—meaning she gives equal treatment (or mistreatment) to everyone from the owners to the lowly rank and file. She gets very little wrong. And if she is wrong, she will correct it immediately–good luck getting that from the New York Times. She is completely unafraid. Because the numbers at her blog have grown so much over the past six months, she is in a position to get anyone on the phone. She lives and breathes for her column and has managed to successfully create a one of a kind Web site that other media pick up.”
In the early days of the strike, when it seemed like a quick settlement was a distinct possibility, Ms. Finke published endless updates and inside information about the negotiations; as both sides have settled in for what everyone seems to think will be a long haul (“The moguls see this as a way to start fresh in terms of the way they develop entertainment product,” Ms. Finke said. “I reported this before the strike and nobody believed me. They couldn’t believe they would do this”), Ms. Finke has continued to publish the most comprehensive strike coverage of any media outlet. She’s long had high-level sources at all the major studios, but now she’s cultivated a willing stable of well-placed writers who are more than eager to tell her their side of things. (At the beginning of the strike, she was getting 4,000 e-mails a day; it’s now at around 2,000, she says.)
“This is a big deal. It’s the biggest story,” she said. “I’ve let a lot of other news stuff slide because it’s a huge story—everything else pales in comparison.”
On that note, congratulations, Nikki Finke! You are The New York Observer’s 2007 Media Mensch of the Year, for stubbornly refusing to let this story die and reminding us all that a world populated solely by American Gladiator Idol Big Brother Makeover would be a very sad one indeed, and we congratulate you! And we thank you for reminding us that all good journalism comes, first and foremost, from obsession.
Your prize? A DVD three-pack: All the Presidents’ Men, Norma Rae and Billy Wilder’s classic Ace in the Hole. Enjoy!