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Nikki Finke is WEEPING Over Deadline.com Dispute!

LOS ANGELES — For her detractors, and there are many, the turnabout is delicious: Nikki Finke, the blogger who squeezed Hollywood with her rabid trade reporting for Deadline.com, is now being squeezed. Jay Penske, the media entrepreneur who bought her Web site in 2009, has Ms. Finke in a difficult spot. For her supporters, and there are many, the public, yearlong spat between Ms. Finke and Mr. Penske — it centers on his purchase of Variety — has been an ill-timed distraction that has made her site bland. Ms. Finke says she no longer has time to report her signature incendiary pieces because she is too busy “scrambling to keep Deadline together with chicken wire.” The Penske Media Corporation, she contends, has not delivered promised resources — an assertion that a Penske spokeswoman called “patently not true.” For Mr. Penske and the broader business community, the tit-for-tat entanglement may simply boil down to another example of the corporate difficulties associated with brands that are so closely linked to one personality, especially one as ferocious as Ms. Finke. Most people in Hollywood are focused on more pressing matters than internal squabbling at a trade publication. But at least in some corners of the show business capital, the Finke-Penske fight has turned into a lurid spectator sport. Ms. Finke has at times taken to answering her phone weeping; at least one studio executive said he privately pressed Mr. Penske to resolve the matter. Ms. Finke said on Wednesday that she hoped a resolution could come by Sunday, when she is scheduled to “live snark” the Emmy Awards for Deadline. An effort to team with an outside investor to help her buy back Deadline from Mr. Penske recently ended in failure, she said. She declined to name the investor, but a private equity executive with knowledge of the matter identified him as Jahm Najafi, who runs a Phoenix-based private equity firm. The executive spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private. A spokesman for Mr. Najafi had no comment. The standoff illustrates the problems that can pop up when one individual develops a presence big enough to define an entire news brand, said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard. “On one hand, there is The Economist approach where they don’t have bylines, to incentivize the magazine brand over staffers,” he said. “But personality and individual standing mean a lot online.” Ms. Finke said she sees two options: Stay under revised conditions or leave and start over at NikkiFinke.com, a Web site she owns. “If I was truthful and brutal before, I want to be 50 times more truthful and brutal,” she said of a potential new site, which she otherwise declined to describe. “Maybe I’ll also have a countdown clock: How many days until The Hollywood Reporter has an issue devoted to moguls and their cats,” Ms. Finke added in a trademark swipe at the rival trade outlet. (The Reporter recently put out a pets issue.) Ms. Finke has a contract with Penske Media through 2016; she said it includes windows that allow her to exit. Mr. Penske had no comment. The spokeswoman for Penske Media, Lauren Gullion, wrote in an e-mail, “Nikki’s multiyear contract with Deadline is not something that ends soon, and it would unconditionally prohibit her starting any other Web site.” Ms. Gullion said of Ms. Finke’s assertion that she worked with an investor to buy Deadline, “We have not received any offers from third parties to purchase the Deadline.com business.” Ms. Finke, speaking from Hawaii, said Penske Media had fallen far short of providing the resources — more reporters, editors and business-side managers — that Deadline requires. Ms. Gullion said: “This is patently not true. P.M.C. has continually made hires of top talent at Deadline ever since we acquired the business and in four years has grown the team.” She cited recent hires like Lisa de Moraes, who joined in June from The Washington Post.

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