Sharon Waxman Launches Hollywood Web Site

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Following on the heels of successful, niche Web sites, former New York Times Hollywood correspondent Sharon Waxman on Monday will launch Thewrap.com. It will consist of news, features and commentaries dealing with the entertainment industry.

Maveron, the Seattle venture capital company, is the lead investor, Waxman told me in a telephone interview Sunday.

The Los Angeles-based Waxman expects to publish at least "two impact stories a day," as well as "writing the news as it comes through."

Waxman intends to build a site that will come to be known as the "go-to" Internet destination for Hollywood news junkies, just as Politico has established itself in the political universe and Walt Disney's ESPN is omnipresent in the sports world.

By some key measures, Waxman is striking at a potentially opportune time.

Opportunity

Struggling newspapers have had to cut back on publishing news and features on all sorts of topics, including the entertainment industry. Waxman, also the author of some well received books, recognizes that the deterioration of the traditional print media represents both a cautionary tale and an opportunity.

The terrible economic conditions mean that all media will likely have a tougher time staying in business without a robust advertising base. The collapses of Detroit's auto industry and the Wall Street financial-services business have badly hurt leading magazines and daily newspapers across the United States.

But Waxman envisions an opportunity for a new site like hers to attract a following, based on solid journalism.

"Our competitive advantage is not only the big stories we can break," she said. "We feel that there is a need for someone to be talking about the transformational changes that are going on in the media and entertainment industries. Traditional publications don't (seem) very differently from the way they did 20 years ago."

The precarious economic times are presenting journalistic opportunities. Waxman pointed out: "Our lead story on Monday is going to be the question mark hanging over the entertainment industry, and what kind of adapting it needs to do."

A day before unveiling the site, Waxman was considering a pointed headline for the story, such as "Change or Bust!"

Hollywood should provide unlimited news fodder. Waxman expects Hollywood's influence to continue to grow in some areas, such as popular culture, politics, the economy and fashion. "We want to be the place where that discussion happens," she said.

Waxman understands that one quality that must shine through to woo a reader is the ability to present a sense of fun, in addition to offering solid information and juicy scoops.

As someone who has written a media column on the Web for nearly a decade, I've come to understand that a writer has to give a reader a good reason to peruse a Web site. If people only sought instant factual information -- anything from sports scores to election results and the stock market news -- they could go to any number of cable news channels on television or other digital sites.

Features

"We're going to have a lot of really fun features," Waxman stressed. She hopes to become known, too, for publishing "hard-hitting interviews," including, on day one, the thoughts of Dan Glickman, the former congressman and Agriculture Secretary who is now the head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

Waxman's knowledge of Hollywood affords her an advantage over some other writers. She can reach back into her memory bank and come up with imaginative features, such as one in the works discussing which Hollywood executives are so old school (or old-fashioned, to put it bluntly) that they still refuse to communicate by using email.

"We're going to be breaking news," Waxman said.

Waxman expects to have Hollywood insiders acting as "Hollybloggers," too. Waxan's site will feature some writers who are well known in the Hollywood community, such as author Kim Masters. Former "Seinfeld" writer Peter Mehlman will also be a contributor.

The allure of being your own boss and making a difference has inspired many journalists-turned-entrepreneurs to launch Web sites and leave behind the relative safety of writing articles and publishing books.

The failure rate is very high. Journalists are often woefully unprepared for the challenges of raising money, managing a business and building a reliable staff. I asked Waxman pointedly why she is jumping into the deep end of journalism.

"Why am I doing this?" she answered with a laugh. "I see an opportunity. If I don't do it, someone else will. It's a challenge to create a vehicle where professional journalists can thrive at a time when professional journalism is imperiled."

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By Jon Friedman
  • CBSNews

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