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It's Official: Jay Penske Finally Fires Nikki Finke, But Is She Free to Go Solo in January?

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 6, 2013 at 2:08PM

There was no containing Nikki Finke. The Deadline founder finally got her way. Following her last destructive media salvo--memorably describing her four years under media mogul Jay Penske as "slavery"--her boss fired her. She's free. Bring on NikkiFinke.com. But does Finke have a non-compete?
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NikkiFinke.com

There was no containing Nikki Finke. The Deadline founder finally got her way. Following her last destructive media salvo--memorably describing her four years under the thumb of media mogul Jay Penske as "slavery"--her boss fired her. She's free. 

Deadline's Film and TV reporters Mike Fleming and Nellie Andreeva, respectively, finally announced the news Tuesday night:

Nikki Finke
Art courtesy Defamer

Despite attempts by all to have it go otherwise, Nikki Finke will no longer be leading Deadline Hollywood, and she will not be writing weekend box office or filing stories going forward. This is an emotional and painful parting of the ways for us. When we joined Deadline four years ago from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety (respectively), we felt that we were doing something disruptive and game-changing. That spirit is what brought us together and will keep us together, and the current team will remain on that path. Businesses evolve and change, and we’ve learned that no one is indispensable. We will be adding a few significant hires to our staff imminently and, though we will never completely replace Nikki’s unique voice, we will continue ahead, charging hard, breaking every story possible. On behalf of everyone at PMC and Deadline Hollywood, we wish her well and appreciate the opportunity to have worked alongside her.

Finke gave her response after an attempt at mediation with Penske yielded no results--and no return phone call, tweeting: "Jay Penske has just told me I am free to leave. He tried to buy my silence. No sale." Continuing to assault Penske via Defamer writer Beejoli Shah, she says that during their protracted legal battle, "there was a point I even volunteered to leave online journalism together just to get free, and this way, this is the best of all outcomes." 

Apparently, Finke believes that she is contractually free to launch her own site NikkiFinke.com in January, and is weighing offers. (Finke denies that she is under a non-compete clause.) On her way out the door she blasted Penske on Defamer:

"Last week the site was hurting [so badly], there were two people running it and that was it. It was awful. […] That's what I've always been complaining about. You can't work people like that. They're doing a redesign of the site, and I've never even seen it. How do you do a redesign without me?...

He fired people without telling me, and he thinks he's just in complete and utter charge. He's in charge of Movieline and he ran it into the ground. Movieline is a bust, and no one ran it but him. He didn't bring in a Bonnie Fuller [of HollywoodLife], he didn't bring in a Michael Ausiello [of TVLine, formerly of TV Guide], he didn't bring in a Nikki Finke. It was just Penske and it went down the drain."

We can argue that The Wrap editrix Sharon Waxman, Finke's former friend and current rival, understood that she had to leave, even if Waxman jumped the gun last June. (She actually drove Finke back into Penske's arms for a time just to prove her wrong.) Hell, I knew from the moment that Finke boasted about the millions she was making from the sale of Deadline to Penske (unlikely to total $14 million--that was an estimate of what she might make over the term of the contract if all the traffic and ad markers were met) that they were doomed to come to a bad end. 

Why? Well, it's easy to look back. What Finke should have done was to raise investment money the way Waxman did so that she would still be in charge of her website, calling the shots. (Waxman still has to answer to her investors, but at least she has no boss.) Andrew Sullivan and Nate Silver are two other online star-journalist models, along with All Things Digital, which is parting ways with parent Wall Street Journal. (See the NYT and USA Today media columnist Michael Wolff's assessment here.) Finke gave away her rights by selling Deadline outright to Penske in 2009. Using Finke's considerable industry clout and profile, Penske built his own media empire. 

This article is related to: New Media, Nikki Finke, Hollywood, The Huffington Post, Hollywood Reporter, The Hollywood Reporter, Thompson on Hollywood


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