Los Angeles Times entertainment reporters discuss challenges of finding truth in Hollywood

By DiAngelea Millar

Los Angeles Times reporters discuss the newspaper’s challenges in covering the entertainment industry, like evasive sources. (Chad Garland)

Finding the truth in Hollywood is a challenge the Los Angeles Times entertainment reporters face for every story.

A panel of entertainment journalists from the newspaper discussed what it’s like covering the industry and how it has changed. The panel included Dawn Chmielewski, Steven Zeitchik, Amy Kaufman, Chris Lee, John Horn, Mary McNamara, Meg James and Scott Collins.

One challenge is the same for all — finding the truth.

“Hollywood has never been known for truth telling,” said Chmielewski, who covers technology in the entertainment industry. “It’s difficult to get passed stonewalling.”

Sometimes people stall or they don’t respond, she said.

“Behind every great story there’s a bunch of people trying to make money and people with agendas,” Chmielewski said.

The key to getting beyond stonewalling is to be motivated, fair and honest, Zeitchik said, an arts and entertainment reporter. And it doesn’t hurt if they know you have talked to a rival or someone else, he added.

Although some things in the industry remain the same, the introduction and adaptation of social media has changed Hollywood.

For reporters, live tweeting (Twitter) and sharing of stories can help disburse information and gain more followers, Kaufman said. She covers entertainment and young Hollywood. Using Twitter also allows fans to interact with reporters, she said.

For entertainers, social media has framed their entire persona, Lee said. He covers entertainment and culture for the paper.

In fact, what most fans and reporters know about celebrities comes from social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Kanye West rarely give interviews anymore.

An actor’s value has diminished, Horn said, and it’s now the franchise that makes the actor.

Entertainment reporters at the LA Times say it is especially important to cover entertainers because they’ve become so influential. (Chad Garland)

“It’s the rise of the super fan,” said Horn, who covers movies for the Times. “You play to the fan base and you give them what they want.”

Covering entertainment is more important than ever, the reporters said. It’s especially important to follow the money and ask questions about what the numbers say, Chmielewski said.

“Pop culture has become such a dominant force,” said McNamara, a TV critic. “It’s an enormous force in people’s lives.”

The reporters’ recent coverage on the Oscars received the second most website views in the history of the Times. People read entertainment news all over the world.

And it’s important to write in a way that appeals to the masses, Horn said.

“The ideal story for us is one that is equally read by consumers and people in the industry,” he said. “You don’t want to write as too much of an insider.”

Still, many of the reporters approach their work as fans.

“It’s a fascinating, glamorous world,” Chmielewski said. “Everyone wants to cover it. Out of all the types of journalism I’ve done, this is the most challenging.”

Reporters covering entertainment need a good poker face, Zeitchik said, and they cannot write from emotion.

Kaufman said they have to be especially careful in covering Hollywood to be careful about what information is on and off the record. It’s not a good idea to ruin a relationship with a publicist or contact, she added.

“Integrity takes a long time to develop and it can be lost in seconds,” Horn said. “You’re only as good as your last story.”