Nikki Finke, Pioneering Journalist and Scourge of Hollywood, Dies at 68

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Nikki Finke, a pioneering entertainment journalist and the founder of Deadline who was both feared and respected in Hollywood in the early days of digital media, has died. She was 68.

Finke died in Boca Raton, Florida on Sunday morning of a prolonged illness, according to her family.

Finke founded Deadline as a blog in 2006 and wrote dishy insider scoops that put the traditional print trades Variety and The Hollywood Reporter on their heels.

She was legendary in her day, writing scoops that often proclaimed “Toldja!” when something she’d reported turned out to be true. When things she predicted did not come to pass, privately she would claim that it was true when she wrote it.

But while she was required reading in Hollywood, Finke was also feared and hated by many, as she became notorious for threatening sources and trading one piece of information to get another more damaging piece of information.

In 2006 she told Marketwatch: “I write mean — end of story. I’m unapologetic about it – end of story. I watch out for the shareholders — end of story.”

Among the targets of her often personal-seeming grievances were then-NBC chief Ben Silverman, the former head of the William Morris agency Jim Wiatt, Universal executive Marc Shmuger and many other Hollywood power players of the early aughts.

She rose to the height of her power during the Writers Strike of 2007, when she wrote on behalf of Hollywood’s writers who were being shut out by the studios. According to those who knew her at the time, she would sometimes fall asleep on her keyboard as she kept up with the news.

She made common cause with power player Ari Emanuel as he sought to merge his Endeavor agency – but actually take over – William Morris in 2009. With Finke as his ally, Emanuel outmaneuvered and pushed out Wiatt, the long-time William Morris chairman.

Finke started her long journey as a journalist while attending Wellesley College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. After graduating, she got a job in then New York congressman Ed Koch’s office. She credited the future New York City Mayor for inspiring her to become a reporter when she watched how he and his staff “would genuflect to journalists.” She went on to cover his mayoral run as a reporter on AP’s foreign desk.

As the years progressed, Finke wrote for various publications, including The Dallas Morning News, Newsweek – where she was a correspondent in Washington and Los Angeles – and at the Los Angeles Times, where she covered entertainment and features. Shortly thereafter, she became west coast editor for The New York Observer and, later, New York, where she was the Hollywood business columnist.

As her career evolved, Finke also wrote for The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar and The Washington Post, among others.

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In 2002, Finke’s LA Weekly column Deadline Hollywood took off and, four years later she struck out on her own to found the Deadline blog as the internet overturned traditional journalism. The internet suited Finke’s style, who couldn’t resist breaking a story at all hours of the day. A blog freed her to write and report at will – without the oversight of an editor.

In 2009, Penske Media Corp. purchased Deadline for a reported $14 million, with her remaining editor-in-chief and continuing her reporting and commentary.

But her scorched earth writing and reporting tactics eventually caught up with her, as too many Hollywood players complained about Finke now that she had a boss. Penske defended and protected her for years until Finke finally stepped away from Deadline Hollywood in 2013.

She frequently promised to return and, a year later, launched NikkiFinke.com, which got no traction. The following year came HollywoodDementia.com, where she and other Hollywood insiders would supposedly write and share showbiz short fiction. That too went nowhere.

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She suffered from lifelong diabetes and was notoriously reclusive because of her discomfort over being overweight, having been a society debutante as a young woman. There are only a couple of photos of Finke that exist from the last several decades, the current photo having been taken for the book jacket about CAA that was never published.

She was also considered a longtime rival of Sharon Waxman, the founder of this site, who she considered as having betrayed their friendship by founding TheWrap in 2009.

Finke is survived by her sister, Terry Finke Dreyfus, her brother-in-law James, and nieces Sarah Greenhill and Diana Leighton.

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