When I started Deadline Hollywood in March 2006, I did it to create a different kind of media outlet that told the truth about showbiz. It also meant I would be destroying (or destroyed by) the Hollywood promotional machine that for so long was able to dictate to too many editors and reporters at the trades when an article would be published and how that article would be written, all in the furtherance of what can only called advertorial (advertisement in the form of editorial). This is why I’ve always insisted on having complete editorial and design control over everything Deadline. However, maintaining that became a struggle as soon as Lynne Segall in the summer of 2010 became a consultant with the title of Vice President/Publisher of MMC Entertainment after she was fired by the Los Angeles Times. We’d been collegial but never worked together, and, yes, I was well aware of her many controversial print ad products which crossed the line between editorial and advertising. But I wasn’t seeking those from her. So I was instrumental in bringing her in to help Deadline because I thought of her as a tireless ad sales machine with great Hollywood connections. Let me say from the outset, that’s as true now as it was then. But let me also ask: at what cost to journalism integrity?
Because, from Day One of her consultancy, I felt like I was battling the force of darkness at every turn.
I have emails to back up everything I’m saying here. And I never once had these kinds of problems with Deadline’s primary ad salesman Nic Paul, Senior Director of Entertainment Sales for my parent company. But as soon as Lynne arrived, she began trying to break down the wall I’d carefully and deliberately erected between Deadline’s editorial product and my parent company’s advertising department.
Almost immediately, she tried to stop me from criticizing Jeff Zucker and NBC Universal because he’d ordered his TV and movie operations not to advertise on Deadline (something I hadn’t even been aware of because of the wall I’d erected) and because she held out hope of chasing NBC’s very lucrative “Fall Tune-In” dollars. I repeatedly told her not to interfere with my editorial control. I found out later to my shock and dismay that she’d taken it upon herself to assure NBC that she could get me to lay off Zucker if only NBC Universal would start advertising.
After this initial push and pushback between us, Segall began to realize that I was no pushover. And it made her very, very unhappy. I truly don’t think she’d ever worked before with an editor-in-chief who’d said ‘No’ to her priority of placing the almighty ad dollar above editorial ethics. Again and again, she’d ask me to tone down honest stories I’d already written. Or she’d find out from the marketplace about honest stories I intended to write and ask me to spike them. Or she’d go behind my back to my staff and try to assign coverage of specific advertisers.
Each and every time, I told her to stick it where the sun don’t shine — at first politely, then much less so.
But the unravelling of our working relationship really took place over Lynne’s insistence on expanding Deadline’s online presence into the print medium. By her own admission, she was much more comfortable selling print ads after an entire career in publishing. When she brought the idea of Deadline awards publications to me soon after she began her consultancy, I told her it wasn’t possible for me and my small (but elite) staff to take on even more work. Speaking just for myself, I was reporting and writing and running the website almost 24/7. I reminded Segall that Deadline wasn’t the LA Times which has editors and writers up the wazoo. And I explained that I didn’t think it would be cost effective to hire a separate print staff since Deadline’s strength is that it’s lean and mean and therefore can control quality and stretch ad dollars.
When I nixed the idea, Segall went behind my back. She started selling Deadline awards publications to advertisers without my permission. She set a Deadline awards publications schedule without my input. She arranged a Deadline awards publications party without my authorization. But, then, and this to me was unforgiveable, she secretly started putting together the first Deadline awards publication without my involvement.
As I later discovered to my horror, she designed the cover image and assigned the copy based on who was taking the most advertising. Under her guidance, she planned that first Deadline print publication to be advertorial but to use my brand and my name on the masthead to give it integrity. Suffice it to say her print edition never saw the light of day.
Because of the commitments she had made to advertisers, I felt compelled to rush together 5 Deadline awards publications virtually by myself. Then she arranged with advertisers for two more issues without telling me. She also violated my editorial and design control over Issue #6 by helping arrange for it to be sent to the printer without my final oversight, even though it bore Deadline’s brand on the cover and my name on the masthead. I demanded she come clean to advertisers about this: she never did. After I was done with all 7 Awards print editions, I suffered exhaustion and worsened insulin-dependent diabetes. She didn’t care. (Though I had been compassionate about her eye surgeries.)
When I discovered the extent of what Lynne had done behind my back, I told her our working relationship was finished. Her mantra back to me was, “But think of all the money we’re making!” as if that justified what she had done. To which I replied, “I’m not about the money. I’m a journalist.” I later agreed to forgive her and wipe the slate clean — but only after she apologized (she did) and agreed to respect my editorial and design control over all things Deadline (she promised), and informed advertisers about Issue #6 (she never did).
Then I discovered in late May that she had been selling 4 Deadline Emmy print editions to advertisers without my permission. And she set a Deadline Emmy awards publications schedule without my input. Again, I told her to come clean to advertisers because Deadline was not going to publish these issues. She claimed she had gone back and made that clear. But she didn’t. At this point I had to stop her from ruining the integrity of Deadline. I told Lynne we were finished and that I wanted nothing more to do with her. Again, I felt compelled to fulfill the commitments she had made to advertisers, so I just recently put out 2 Emmy print editions with TVLine. (FYI, for the 2011-2012 Oscar and Emmy Awards season, Deadline will continue to publish print editions but on my schedule and my terms.)
I am explaining all this because I believe in transparency. (Full Disclosure: I am contractually prevented from disclosing information about my parent company, so I have confined this posting to only my own relationship with Lynne.) I don’t blame Segall for the above because, as one of her pals told me today, “It’s just in Lynne’s DNA. You’re all about editorial integrity, and she’s all about ad dollars. And she can’t understand where you’re coming from.” Which is why she’s now replaced fired publisher Lori Burgess at the new celeb lifestyle The Hollywood Reporter. I consider Segall and THR a perfect fit. (See my Summit Scandal At The Hollywood Reporter.) I have no doubt she will sell lots of print ads for their weekly advertorial because she’s very good at that. But at Deadline, journalism has and will always come first.
Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.