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Q: If entertainment isn’t journalism, how does “entertainment journalism” work?

A:

It works like any other kind of journalism. Just because the subject is the entertainment industry doesn’t mean rigorous rules of journalism don’t still apply. Stories in reputable outlets like The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and The Wrap are held to the same standards as stories from any other legitimate news organization, and live up to the three distinguishing features of journalism: verification, independence and accountability. They also follow the standard rules for sourcing that we’ve talked about in class: Independent sources are better than self-interested ones; Multiple sources are better than a single source; sources who offer Verifiable information are better than those who simply assert; sources who are Authoritative and Informed are better than uninformed ones; and finally Named sources are better than unnamed ones.

The same goes for other non-journalism “neighborhoods” too: There’s plenty of great journalism done about propaganda (like the excellent New Yorker article by Jane Mayer you read about Fox News becoming a de facto state organ), and about advertising (e.g. the trade publication Ad Age), and about the challenges of turning raw information into valid, vetted, verified reporting.

All that said, entertainment journalism faces a unique challenge in getting independent and named sources to go on the record. Movies, music, TV and other creative endeavors are talent-driven businesses that depend on trust and on personal relationships. For that reason, executives and artists—especially in Los Angeles, New York and London, where a lot of production infrastructure is based—are often self-interested in ways that present stark conflicts of interest, making them exceptionally reluctant to be quoted directly by reporters. They don’t want to appear to be criticizing a past or future collaborator. Case in point: The chronic, now-exposed sexually abusive behavior of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Harvey Weinstein and Gwyneth Paltrow at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, in January 1998. Photograph: Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images; as appeared in The Guardian, 10 Sept. 2019

As detailed in the excellent new book “She Said” (which has been widely hailed as comparable to the landmark Watergate exposé “All the President’s Men”), the two reporters who finally broke the logjam of don’t-quote-me, don’t-name-me silence—Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey–had to overcome an entrenched network of enabling gatekeepers. These Weinstein enablers bullied targets into silence with lawsuits and “NDAs”, or nondisclosure agreements. (Another reporter, Ronan Farrow, also did critical work to expose Weinstein, some of which figures in his new book on so-called “catch-and-kill” tactics for burying sexual-abuse allegations.) Following the deep-dive details of how Kantor and Twohey cracked one of the biggest stories in the history of entertainment journalism—indeed, in the history of journalism period—is like reading a spy novel, so high are the stakes. As the saying goes, with no disrespect to the seriousness of the Weinstein story, “That’s Entertainment!” More importantly, that’s serious, rigorous journalism.