Another Los Angeles Times media star is leaving after a tumultuous few weeks. Film columnist Patrick Goldstein left soon after the arrival of new LA Times assistant managing editor for arts and entertainment John Corrigan. Now veteran entertainment writer Geoff Boucher, who founded the successful "Hero Complex" blog in 2008, is also leaving, but the LAT has not offered him a buyout.
Why would they? His blog is on track to generate some 50 million page views a year. LA Times president Kathy Thomson took Boucher to lunch last Friday to try and keep him. But it was too late. Boucher walked out on the paper, saying, "I'm done," after a heated debate with Corrigan.
"The way it happened is not the way I had planned," Boucher admits. "I had an exchange with John Corrigan that changed my plan. I was going to sit tight until the creditors took over and see what happened and take 'Hero Complex' with me. But I had worked with so many good people for so long that I was not willing to work for a bad person. I'm a team player."
Boucher's wife Tracy remains on staff, so the writer is trying to stay on good terms with the paper. (He's also still friendly, contrary to some reports, with departing digital assistant managing editor Megan Garvey; he was best man at her wedding.) The staff at the LAT was shocked because Boucher started there at age 21 and never left. He was the new model success story, launching the blog the same year as "Dark Knight" and "Iron Man," and rode the comic-book tsunami in Hollywood. Boucher's last day in the office will be Friday, but he will finish up features over the next few weeks to run over the next year from such set visits as "The Lone Ranger" and "World War Z."
He wrote to his friends on his Facebook page:
"Thanks everyone for your thoughts and words and sentiments. It is very strange and sad to leave the paper after 21 years but it is completely my choice. I'm going to gamble and bet on myself and what I've learned over these past few years with the Hero Complex success. As a friend of mine in Metropolis says, you can't fly until you take a leap..."
While Boucher is planning to continue to work in journalism, he may not be able to hang on to his "Hero Complex" name, which is owned by the LAT. The paper can't let him buy the blog, because owner Tribune Media is still mired in bankruptcy. If Boucher can't retrieve the name, he'll come up with something else. "I have something I'm looking at, I've moved on from the name," he says. He's already fielding job offers and talking with potential investors and media partners (along the lines of the NYTImes, Wired, Yahoo, The Sci-Fi Channel, Entertainment Weekly, and MTV).
With or without the established Hero Complex handle--he has already changed his Twitter feed into his own name--Boucher will be able to use his access to the Hollywood film community and respect within the mighty Comic-Con fanboy universe to start --and own--his brand. One of the reasons Boucher is so popular is that he's more fan than critic. He loves promoting his enthusiasm for genre material, from Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" to Marvel's burgeoning comics/movie empire.
Boucher thinks that newspapers should do more to build their brand name stars online, use their passions and personalities to engage with readers on a subject they all care about, whether comics or sports. "These papers look at online as TV networks, but they don't think about TV shows," he says. "I'm putting on a show about one thing, but you have to understand it to make a show out of it."
The LAT editor-in-chief Davan Maharaj emailed the paper's staff about Boucher's plans.
For 21 years, Geoff Boucher has distinguished himself as a writer and digital innovator at the Los Angeles Times. It will be a bittersweet moment Friday afternoon when we gather to say goodbye as Geoff begins a new chapter in his career, outside of journalism.
Geoff arrived at the paper in 1991 as a 21-year-old intern for the Orange County Edition. He immediately won people over with his energy and imagination. I, too, was a young reporter in Costa Mesa in those days, and I became a friend and admirer. He reported on crime, transportation and politics, and was part of the paper's campaign-trail coverage team during the 2000 presidential election. Geoff eventually made the move to Calendar, where his byline became associated with outstanding profiles including the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Steven Spielberg, Beyonce, Bono and Johnny Depp.
Geoff created the Hero Complex blog in 2008 to report on the intersection between Hollywood and comic books, sci-fi and fantasy. The site has become and will remain an important part of latimes.com. It spawned a film festival, a screening series, a special-edition magazine and an online show. Geoff saw the power of the Los Angeles Times platform to reach a new generation of fans and tell stories in a different way. He’s been a model for others.
He has been busy this week working on some final stories, including an interview with Clint Eastwood (minus the chair). Let’s gather on the second floor at 3 p.m. Friday to celebrate Geoff’s contributions—among them, 2,867 print bylines in 21 years – and wish him the best in his new venture.
I'm curious to see how the LAT tries to replace Boucher. Few writers combine genuine enthusiasm and knowledge in this realm of entertainment with print feature chops and online blogging ability. Boucher instinctively knows how to play the social media game and reach out and engage his fans. It's not as easy as it looks.