By: DAVID NOACK
The Journal: ‘We’re ready for our close-up, Mr. DeMille’
The newspaper that used to advertise itself as “The Daily Diary of the American Dream” is now teaming up with dream-makers in Hollywood.
The Wall Street Journal has hired one of Tinseltown’s top talent agencies, Creative Artists Agency (CAA), to represent the newspaper when it comes to pitching and fielding story ideas for TV and motion pictures.
The deal opens the door for the possibility that the Journal’s financial tales of power, intrigue, compelling characters, and dealmaking will be working their way to the silver screen.
Officials at the Journal downplayed the move to hire CAA, saying it was done to better manage the process when calls come in regarding stories that have appeared in the newspaper. While inquires have been made in the past about Journal stories, no deals have come to pass.
Richard J. Tofel, a spokesman for Dow Jones & Co. Inc., which owns the Journal, says the newspaper periodically gets calls from producers and agents about a particular story but, until recently, lacked a method of dealing with the request.
All the CAA arrangement is doing, Tofel says, is providing a process and point man to handle the details. The agent handling calls to the Journal is Bob Bookman.
“The Journal news department has fielded expressions of interest for years in film and television rights, and they concluded that it would be more sensible to have a professional in that business to field those calls and that if one were going to go, you might occasionally have that person pitch stories affirmatively to producers, studios, [etc.]” says Tofel.
He says the company interviewed a number of agencies and individuals before settling on CAA. The agency will not handle book deals. Reporters who strike book deals can do so, in exchange for the newspaper having first serial rights.
Tofel says reporters who write a story that is eventually made into a TV show or movie would also share in the money. How much money they would get remains to be seen.
He says CAA will not get stories in advance, but will see them when they are published.
For years, movies and TV series have created story plots from news headlines. Stephen J. Adler, an assistant managing editor who is handling the effort, says the uniqueness of the Journal stories make them attractive.
“Our front-page stories are often narrative accounts with strong characters and strong plot lines, and so sometimes they bear resemblance to movie plots.” says Adler. “These would be our front-page enterprise story where we would introduce a character that the reader previously didn’t know about, or we tell a story exclusively, which is what most of our Page-One stories are.”
He says interest has been expressed in Susan Carey’s Journal article on the ordeal of passengers stuck for seven hours in a Northwest Airlines plane that sat on a Detroit airport runway right after a snowstorm last New Year’s weekend.
“I’ve definitely gotten, just in the last month, two, three, or four inquiries about other things as well. This is something we’re doing partly for our internal efficiency,” says Adler.
“It’s just useful for us to have someone in Hollywood who understands this stuff better than we do and sort out whether something is real or not,” says Adler, who adds that the paper doesn’t expect this effort to be a big moneymaker.
He says the deal will not get in the way of good journalism ? meaning there won’t be a slew of stories showing preferential treatment toward Hollywood ? and that reporters will continue to cover the movie industry the same as they do other businesses.
Mike Lange, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Times, says the paper is not represented by an agent, but reporters can negotiate their own deals. He says the newspaper retains the rights to the printed story.
Representatives of The Associated Press and Knight Ridder say they have not gone the agent route, either.
Lisa Carparelli, a spokeswoman for The New York Times, says that while the paper has considered the idea of hiring an agent to represent it in movie and TV deals, it has not done so.
Instead, reporters and editors who are contacted by producers, agents, or studio representatives must rely on the Times’ overall conflict-of-interest policy for guidance.
The Times’ policy states, in part: “Under no circumstance should a correspondent or editor engage in discussions of any sort with an agent, studio executive, or filmmaker about the possibility, however remote, of optioning the rights to a story or story idea, before that story has been published in the Times. Even after the story is published, writers and editors should consult with the Legal Department and with News Administration prior to entering into discussions.”
Mimi Feller, a spokeswoman for Gannett Co. Inc., says its flagship USA TODAY employs an agent for product placement, to get the newspaper shown in a movie shot, but that the company has no plans to hire an agent to pitch stories.