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Media Watch: Hiring Brand Stars

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 8, 2010 at 1:18AM

There's a lot of movement in the media these days--including hordes of departing Newsweek staffers--and while journalism salaries and full-time jobs continue to decline, some folks are scoring big paydays.
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Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood

There's a lot of movement in the media these days--including hordes of departing Newsweek staffers--and while journalism salaries and full-time jobs continue to decline, some folks are scoring big paydays.

In Los Angeles, for instance, Janice Min's about-to-go-weekly The Hollywood Reporter is dangling fat salaries and contracts as the editorial director doubles staff size in a bid to win the cutthroat trade wars against Reed Business's Variety, Sharon Waxman's The Wrap, EMAP's Screen International, and Jay Penske's Deadline. At stake: high-end eyeballs, premium endemic ads from studios and networks, and the Holy Grail, luxury ads. Min is chasing established names, luring Kim Masters, Alison Hope Weiner and Degen Pener as well as vet trade critic Todd McCarthy. Deadline scored Variety's Michael Fleming and the LAT''s online Oscar columnist Pete Hammond; the LAT is still searching for his replacement. Penske recently brought Salon critic Stephanie Zacharek to Movieline and EW star TV blogger Michael Ausiello over to his blog network. Neither of them came cheap.

Waxman was able to hang onto Oscar columnist Steve Pond at The Wrap after Min pursued him. Min also went after Page Six columnist Richard Johnson, but the NYPost wouldn't let him out of his contract. Now, propitiously, he's moving to L.A. for some ill-defined digital initiatives gig in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire. He's presumably waiting out his contract so that he can start collecting his new $1 million salary from Min, who in turn is reportedly earning more than that herself.

Many media outlets are discovering--after the rush to improve their bottom lines by making drastic cuts to their rosters of well-paid senior staffers--that brand names have currency in today's cluttered, noisy world. That's because they pop, lure loyal readers, build fans and followers--and traffic. I would not be where I am today if I had not grown readers at THR's Risky Business blog (I launched their first blog in 2005) and later, at TOH.

On the political side, Andrew Sullivan's blog is a fixture at The Atlantic, Newsweek star Fareed Zakaria has gone to Time, while Howard Fineman has moved to The Huffington Post, which has also lured the NYT's Peter S. Goodman. Howard Kurtz left the Washington Post to go to The Daily Beast (whose editor Tina Brown is engaged in merger talks with Newsweek). These are big names and they draw big salaries.

It's too bad more old media execs didn't understand the value of their own marquee brands.

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.