Howard Burns was promoted to the position of editor of the Hollywood Reporter on Sept. 17 following a lengthy search brought on by the resignation of Anita Busch. Burns, 42, has served in a variety of editorial roles since joining the trade paper 13 years ago. Busch and two others stepped down in April after a disagreement with Publisher Robert Dowling, who reassigned a story alleging that longtime Reporter columnist George Christy accepted favors from sources.Question:
When Robert Dowling announced your promotion, he said there would be changes at the Reporter. What kind of changes?
Answer: One failing at this paper has been the depth with which we cover the business of the business really getting into the nuts and bolts issues that the people who manufacture entertainment products face. We're not abandoning the traditional coverage that we've had here, talent deals and all that. Talent drives this industry so clearly that's a major thrust of what we're going to continue to do. But the business of making entertainment product, all the problems and dilemmas that these people face, we're going to devote more space to that.
Q: Can you give an example of a recent story that illustrates the new focus on business coverage?
A: Take a look at our coverage of the post-tragedy response in this industry over the last couple of weeks. None of this stuff was the usual press-release driven material.
Q: What impact have the terrorist attacks had on the entertainment business?
A: You can't make the same movies that you made two weeks ago, you can't make the same TV shows you made two weeks ago. There are new content issues and sensitivity issues and financial issues that are creating dilemmas for many of the different entertainment companies.
Q: How do you plan to distinguish the Reporter from Variety?
A: For years the two trades have basically been interchangeable. Basically the same types of things, talent driven, deals stories. And I believe that by doing the things that we talked about, we can establish ourselves as something different.
Q: The trades have been accused of being too cozy with the business they cover. What's your take on that?
A: We evaluate stories on news value and exclusivity. It's obviously important that we have exclusive stories that we know the competition won't have. But cozying up? I don't think we cozy up. Some people may try to angle for placement but it's just not going to happen.
Q: What's the proper role of trade papers in Hollywood?
A: I believe that our function is A, to deliver the news, and B, to raise the issues that affect everyone who works in this industry. We want to be thought provoking. We're not looking to instigate anything, we're not looking to light any fuses, we're just looking to inform, enlighten and raise the issues and concerns that people in this industry have.
Q: Anita Busch resigned when the paper refused to publish a story by David Robb alleging that George Christy received credits for movies he never appeared in and engaged in other journalistic transgressions. How disruptive has that been?
A: It's obviously disruptive when an editor leaves the paper as suddenly as Anita left. One of the things I had to face as the acting editor was to not only be the leader of the staff but to be kind of a crisis counselor helping people deal with all the residual publicity and to try to get their eyes on the ball. I think they responded beyond expectations.
Q: The search process went on for a few months with you as interim editor. Did you have to prove yourself to Bob Dowling?
A: I always felt that I had the best chance to get the job because I had a hand in hiring just about everybody on this staff. I know the operation as well as anybody.
Q: There's been some discussion that Dowling had questions about the extent of your connections in Hollywood.
A: Well, I wouldn't say I'm connected as Anita was. I rely on my people, they are the ones who are connected and generating the news. Will I get out there and become more connected? Absolutely.
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