The Hollywood Reporter Turns 4: Staffers Share Personal Tales Behind the Relaunch
Amid industry-wide skepticism, the staff managed to engineer an astonishing media makeover
Speculation in the months leading up to The Hollywood Reporter's relaunch as a weekly magazine was not positive, to say the least. "THR Rearranges Deck Chairs on Titanic," one headline read. "All the young pishers of Hollywood carry Blackberrys and iPhones, so who needs to read an old fashioned print magazine?" asked another publication.
After the first issue hit newsstands on Nov. 3, 2010, the new THR defied expectations and quickly became a must-read for both industry insiders and entertainment fans. In addition to praise from consumers and critics alike, the revamped publication has received a nomination from the American Society of Magazine Editors for General Excellence; numerous awards from the L.A. Press Club, including three journalist of the year honors and repeat wins for entertainment publication of the year and website of the year; and an Emmy Award for THR's Janice Min, Stephen Galloway, Jennifer Laski and Stephanie Fischette for The Wolf of Wall Street roundtable.
The staff of the inaugural issue reveal what they remember about remodeling THR.
Kim Masters, editor-at-large:
"I had the honor and good luck to be the first journalist that Janice hired when she came to THR. We faced a lot of skepticism in the industry—even some taunting. Some people thought Janice would re-create Us Weekly without stopping to ask themselves why she would bother to do that. Others just thought the idea of launching a print magazine was crazy. In fairness, it was counterintuitive, to say the least.
"My first story, which was about the behind-the-scenes Hollywood madness on the making of the film Burlesque, ran not in the first but the second issue. Given that the story ruffled feathers and there were those in the industry who would have been happy if it had never been published, I think it answered an important question about whether there was room for tough and in-depth reporting here. We have proved that there is, many times over since. I think that's what makes the magazine compelling: the mix of substance, beauty and fun."
Mike Barnes, managing editor, daily:
"The place was dying, and we knew something had to be done. The holdovers like myself were nervous but eager to demonstrate that we weren’t morons, that we deserved to be part of the new THR. On one of Janice's first days, while we were still doing a paper five days a week, she sent me an email pointing out the redundant phrase 'revert back' that appeared in the New York edition that day. We did spot it and fix it for the later L.A. edition. If it wasn't obvious before, we all knew we had to elevate our game. 'Revert back' remains an inside joke on the copy desk."
Stephen Galloway, executive editor, features:
"We were dealing with endless people in the industry saying we wouldn't work. Against that, we had to put together a roundtable with big stars who were potential Oscar nominees. I remember on that roundtable there was a sudden moment when one of the actresses was talking about losing a job and realized another there had gotten that job. There was a moment of frozen embarrassment that was then papered over with polite titters."
Shanti Marlar, creative director:
"That they were able to call Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Hilary Swank — Academy Award winners — we were so impressed and excited we had so much cooperation and respect when we got here. We took advantage of what was already there and just completely changed the visuals on it."
Merle Ginsberg, senior style writer:
"Janice wanted to do a big story on the Soho House, a story on the membership rules. Talk about pulling teeth; it was like pulling molars. They refused to participate and asked me not to run the story. I had to start calling everyone in the world. I spoke with members, I spoke with friends I'd gone with, I spoke to the membership committee — I had to piece it together from a million little parts. The day the story came out, someone on our staff went to the Soho House for lunch, and they said all the issues of the magazine were gone by lunch. Apparently the Soho House was thrilled — as much as they didn't want the story, they loved the story."
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Degen Pener, former culture editor:
“[The Soho House story] was dishy and fun. I knew that in Merle I had a great person on the style team that could pull something together that had that mix of Hollywood and style. That kind of set a nice template right away for how we were going to cover style. It had that feeling of, 'are you in or are you out' that Hollywood is always kind of anxious about. That was a good piece that sort of set the tone from the start."
"I think what was interesting early on was the style people came in and we were looking at the trade people like 'we don’t speak that language,' and they were looking at the fashion women in high heels like 'this is new here,' Janice brought these cultures together, and at first it didn’t make sense for everyone, but she had this vision and it kind of came together. Even just in the first issue, it was fully fledged enough you could tell what she was up to. You could tell this would be a new product that would merge the business with what the business people like to do."
Lesley Goldberg, senior staff writer, TV:
"We were here until late into the night — many nights — editing everything as the deadline grew closer. I had bought concert tickets for my girlfriend's birthday (Kate Nash, her favorite singer) and was allowed to duck out for the show but had to come back afterward. Thankfully, she was patient enough to stick with me through the launch and four years later, I'm now a senior TV reporter and we're married."
Matt Belloni, executive editor:
"We compiled a map of agencies and the restaurants and hotels around them. I remember going to all of the agencies asking them what different places they went to eat and drink. The agencies' response was, 'you never ask us these kinds of questions, what's going on?' Then after it came out, I remember a lot of the agency publicists calling and going, 'ok, now I get it.'
"We were looking at pages of the prototype, and while I had been very involved in the business pages, in developing the Heat Index and the Deals of the Week, I wasn't involved at all in the creation of the style pages. I remember looking at the pages on the wall and giving what I later learned was a skeptical look. Janice turned to me and said, 'don't worry, it won't suck.'"