For anyone who thinks modern journalism could benefit from the kind of larger-than-life rivalries pioneered by Pulitzer and Hearst, look no further than Deadline’s Nikki Finke and TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman. Granted, a conflict between the headstrong editrixes of two Hollywood-insider blogs may lack the theatrics of an old-timey circulation war, but if you can overlook the level of self-aggrandizing between the parties involved (who may need to be reminded that they’re competing for scoops, not curing cancer), the intricacies of their latest dustup are intriguing.
It started on Sunday evening when Waxman dropped a would-be bombshell on the entertainment-media world, writing that Finke’s boss, Jay Penske, fired her from Deadline.com, the popular blog she created. Citing “multiple individuals with knowledge of the situation,” Waxman wrote that her longtime arch rival would be leaving as soon as this week.
Penske Media Corp purchased Finke’s blog in 2009. And last year, the company also snatched up entertainment trade magazine Variety. Since that time, there have been numerous reports (mostly from TheWrap) about growing tensions between Finke and Penske, who reportedly did not want Finke involved in Variety’s editorial process.
According to Waxman’s post on Sunday, Finke’s five-year contract is up next year, and she and Penske have not yet come to a new agreement. She also wrote that Penske had “had enough” of Finke and that Finke apparently “crossed the line one too many times in sending poison-pen emails berating sources over scoops she lost to competitors.”
But no sooner did Waxman publish the post did she update it with a supposed email response from Jay Penske himself: “Sharon, your story isn’t true, and all of the ‘facts’ that you mention are completely erroneous.”
About an hour later, Deadline’s Mike Fleming came back with his own blog post denying Waxman’s report and stating that “nobody fires Nikki Finke.” Fleming also reposed an internal memo from Lauren Gullion, head of communications for PMC, who called Waxman’s report “libelous,” “defamatory” and a “complete fabrication.”
“Just to be clear, Nikki Finke has a multiyear contract with the company, and it is the company’s absolute intention to continue its obligations under the agreement,” Gullion wrote in the memo.
It gets better. Early Monday morning, Finke herself posted a response to Waxman in a blog entry in which she declined to discuss her contract.
“As it happens, I was napping in a different time zone when TheWrap crapped on me yet again Sunday night. Nothing new: The desperate Sharon Waxman and her revolving door staff have been writing inaccurately about me for years and doing it to drive traffic to her failing website and refusing to correct even the most blatant errors.”
The Waxman/Finke rivalry seems to have stepped into overdrive over the last few weeks, at least from Waxman’s end. In April, TheWrap’s publisher, Stacey Farish, abruptly jumped ship for PMC, where she will reportedly head up Deadline’s print magazine, Awardsline.
Waxman didn’t take kindly to the poaching and lashed out at Finke via Twitter:
— Sharon Waxman (@sharonwaxman) April 24, 2013
Finke responded by saying she wasn’t even aware of the transition.
@sharonwaxman You're inaccurate. I didn't even know your publisher was jumping. I only do editorial. Always have. Always will.
— Nikki Finke (@NikkiFinke) April 24, 2013
According to Waxman’s post on Sunday, Waxman attempted to contact Finke before she posted the story about her alleged firing: “Finke did not respond to a Wrap email or call seeking comment ahead of this story's initial publication,” she wrote.
In her response, Finke acknowledged that she received an email from Waxman at 6:43 p.m. on Sunday, but she said that Waxman gave her no time to respond, posting the story only two minutes later.
“That’s a rotten thing to do, not to mention bad journalism, and she knows it,” Finke wrote. “And it’s yet one more reason I call her website TheCrap.”