Hollywood Reporter’s Top Editor Exits After Dispute With Publisher

LOS ANGELES — The editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter has left his job after a dispute with his bosses over coverage of the entertainment industry.

In a move that caught the staff by surprise, the trade publication announced on Monday morning that Matthew Belloni was departing. A former Los Angeles entertainment lawyer, Mr. Belloni had led the trade outlet’s website, weekly print magazine, television arm and events business for nearly four years.

Three people with knowledge of Mr. Belloni’s exit said he left because of disagreements with Valence Media, the owner of The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard, the music trade publication.

Valence Media’s two chief executives, Modi Wiczyk and Asif Satchu, as well as another executive, Deanna Brown, tried to influence The Hollywood Reporter’s coverage several times, and Mr. Belloni pushed back, according to the people with knowledge of the split.

“Today’s announcement is the result of a series of conversations I’ve had for a few months with Modi about the direction at THR,” Mr. Belloni said in an email to the staff. “Some may want to read into that, but I’ll just say that well-meaning, diligent, ambitious people can disagree about fundamental priorities and strategies.”

Mr. Wiczyk and Mr. Satchu are the founders of Media Rights Capital, a film and TV studio known as MRC whose properties include the 2019 film “Knives Out” and the Netflix drama “Ozark.” They started overseeing The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 as part of a reorganization of Valence Media, which also owns Dick Clark Productions.

Since Mr. Wiczyk and Mr. Satchu took charge, the people said, Valence Media has put pressure on Mr. Belloni to report favorably on people and projects with ties to MRC. That pressure started to increase last year, the people added, when Valence Media installed Ms. Brown as president of the Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group.

Valence Media executives asked Mr. Belloni if they could give him a “sensitivity list” filled with names of people and companies in business with Mr. Wiczyk and Mr. Satchu, two people with knowledge of the matter said. If The Hollywood Reporter was planning to cover them, Mr. Belloni was supposed to alert his bosses, the people said. Mr. Belloni, who declined to comment for this article, refused to act on the list and also pushed back against efforts to kill certain articles.

Tensions mounted last month during conference calls held by Valence Media to explain its priorities to the editorial staff. The sessions were led by Kelly McBride, a senior vice president at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism center, whom Valence Media hired as an ethics consultant 18 months ago.

During the calls, staff members cited examples of what they considered Valence Media’s interference. In one instance, the company had asked Mr. Belloni to kill a profile of Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to two call participants. Mr. Belloni declined.

Another source of contention was a published list of the decade’s best and worst movies. Ms. Brown told Mr. Belloni the piece was “off-strategy” and later killed a planned television segment based on it, the two people said.

Also deemed “off-strategy” was a piece on Jennifer Lopez’s re-upping with Guess after the clothing company’s co-founder Paul Marciano had resigned after sexual harassment complaints. Ms. Lopez was described as having many “touch points” to MRC, the two people said.

Hollywood Reporter staff members also expressed concern that a Valence Media executive was looking in Slack channels for details on planned stories. Emily Spence, the executive vice president of communications at Valence Media, said in an interview that she was the one who had gone into newsroom Slack channels before realizing it was “an infringement.”

“I removed myself from the rooms and I have asked I.T. to make these channels only available to editorial employees,” Ms. Spence said.

Ms. McBride, the ethics consultant, compared The Hollywood Reporter to ESPN, where she served as ombudsman from 2011 to 2013. Owned by the Walt Disney Company, ESPN reports on the National Football League and National Basketball Association while also earning revenue from its game broadcasts. Similarly, The Hollywood Reporter covers the studios it depends on as advertisers, and its parent company creates films and shows.

“The owners are learning to understand editorial independence, and they really embrace it,” said Ms. McBride, who will continue to advise The Hollywood Reporter while taking a job as the next public editor of National Public Radio. “They have taken my advice at every turn.”

Ms. Spence, the Valence Media spokeswoman, said, “We are committed to our publications and to journalistic integrity. We have implemented many of Poynter’s recommended changes and recently opened up the discussion beyond our leadership teams to all editorial staff.”

Mr. Belloni joined The Hollywood Reporter in 2006. He replaced Janice Min — who turned the trade paper into a glossy magazine — as the publication’s newsroom leader in 2016.

Two people with knowledge of his departure said he knew his run at the publication had come to an end on Friday, hours before he hosted a Trivial Pursuit-themed happy hour for the staff on the videoconferencing app Webex. He asked all the questions.

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