Dawn Wotapka's Media Movers

Media Movers: The Intersect’s Joe Bel Bruno

April 19, 2023

Posted by Dawn Wotapka

At The Intersect, Joe Bel Bruno documents action at the corner of Wall Street and Hollywood Boulevard.

Joe Bel Bruno is putting his stamp on Hollywood.

After an amazing career that included stints as stock market team editor at The Wall Street Journal, news director for the Hollywood Reporter and working on a startup, he’s blending his experience with The Intersect. His publication aims to document and examine how Hollywood and Wall Street collide, a nice ripe with potential.

He’s not the first journalist to give up the big brands in favor of filling a void. (We recently profiled S. Mitra Kalita, CEO and co-founder of URL Media Holdings.) In this case, Joe wants to help investors as they bet on an industry overflowing with dreams —  and darkness. I hope he’s taking good notes because this sounds like a great movie script.

I chatted with Joe about his new venture, how covering the stars on screen and in banking differ, and the advice he gave Alicia Silverstone (yes, that Alicia!).

Dawn Wotapka: Tell me about your new publication. What led to you starting it?

Joe Bel Bruno: I’ve covered Wall Street since the 2008 financial crisis for the AP and later Wall Street Journal. Taking a job at the Los Angeles Times exposed me to the business of Hollywood. I noticed there was really no independent voice for investors putting their money into big media plays. Certainly, trades cover the industry but are mostly focused on casting news or executive shuffles. Bigger outlets like Bloomberg and Reuters are bent toward institutional investors. I wanted to create something anchored in solid financial journalism aimed toward all investors, especially retail shareholders.

Dawn: What is the business model?

Joe: This is an extremely timely question. I chose to follow other writers like Matt Taibbi (who launched Racket News) and Casey Newton (who runs Platformer) to publish on Substack. This is a subscription-based service. I’m also in talks with a number of sponsor and distribution partners to monetize the number of readers that come to Intersect.News, which has been averaging about 30,000 a week.

The big unknown: What’s the future of Substack? You saw this week that Elon Musk has gone on the attack by freezing any Twitter links associated with Substack, which is rolling out a social media competitor called Notes. This is the kind of tech mogul pissing war that limits my audience. It also limits the kind of strong journalism you’ll find on Substack. We’re all talking to each other, and watching this very closely.

Dawn: You’ve found a niche in entertainment media. How did that come about?

Joe: I blame John Corrigan, who hired me at the LA Times as deputy business editor. He then took charge of the paper’s entertainment coverage and brought me along with him. At first, I was really reluctant to take the new assignment. I loved covering Wall Street and all its machinations. But, there’s always a business story to tell. And it took about five seconds into the new job to realize this when Sony Entertainment’s computers were hacked.

Dawn: How does your background in Wall Street reporting help?

Joe: It’s shocking the number of reporters and editors covering Hollywood who have no idea how to read a balance sheet or a stock chart. Some outlets put their most junior staff covering earnings reports. I’ve literally had to teach even senior reporters how to look up an SEC report. We’re also entering a period where M&A activity will heat up, so my experience covering all those mega-deals over the years comes in very handy. It’s muscle memory.

Dawn: What is it about entertainment media that lures journalism entrepreneurs?

Joe: The money. My old boss Jay Penske has consolidated entertainment journalism under one roof, with The Hollywood Reporter and Variety pretty much dominating all the money studios spend on those “For Your Consideration” ads that come during awards season. My friend Sharon Waxman, who founded The Wrap, also fights for those same ad dollars. Janice Min and Richard Rushfield of The Ankler raised seed funding, and are doing a great job covering all the inside baseball in the industry. There’s room for The Intersect in this big Hollywood journalism tent.

Dawn: How are PR people different in entertainment journalism versus the financial press?

Joe: Like night and day. There’s a different set of rules in Hollywood where powerful publicists really try to control the narrative. The trade publications that cover studios will often read back quotes or agree to terms before an interview or even agree to “touch up” their photos. That doesn’t really fly on Wall Street. There’s much, much less horse trading over a big story.

Dawn: What can they learn from each other?

Joe: I don’t think anything. The Hollywood press is hamstrung. They can’t really do the tough stories for fear of losing a major star posing for the cover or risk losing those lucrative ad dollars. That’s the cozy relationship that’s been going on for decades and decades. Why do you think the Harvey Weinstein scandal was covered up so long? I know firsthand there’s a very delicate relationship between entertainment newsrooms and the publicist gatekeepers.

Dawn: You’ve worked in both top-tier and a startup. How do they compare?

Joe: Startups are more fun, first of all. I was the founding editor of dot.LA, which Zillow founder Spencer Rascoff launched to cover the region’s startup community. We had an absolute blast birthing that site. But, the goal – whether it’s a startup news operation or The Wall Street Journal – is to tell a good story. As journalists we got into this business because we like digging into things, talking to people, but more importantly helping readers wrap their heads around a topic.

Ultimately it’s speed boat vs. the cruise liner. A startup like The Intersect or dot.LA can turn on a dime to cover a story. The WSJ or LA Times needs an “A1 Meeting” full of top editors to decide what’s news and what’s not, followed by looping in audience engagement teams and SEO experts and even more meetings. It takes a ton of effort to turn that cruise liner around. Not so much on the speedboat.

Dawn: What is it about celebrities that has us – and keeps us – so intrigued? It seems like I can’t open a website without seeing the Kardashians’ every move.

Joe: You’re asking the wrong guy. I was at a party in the 1990s where the entire cast of “Clueless” was there. I ended up talking to Alicia Silverstone and told her to “hang in there, you’ll get your big break soon.” I’ve never been much of a celebrity fanboy. It would be a different story if I was in a room with Jamie Dimon or David Zaslav or Lachlan Murdoch or Bob Iger.

Dawn: Are stars just like us?

Joe: Alicia didn’t throw a drink in my face. You hear stories of diva behavior, but I think most are nice souls.

Dawn: Back to you. How did you get into journalism?

Joe: At 15, I worked at a hot dog joint for minimum wage. And the Irvine World News was hiring sports stringers for a little more. Seemed better than coming home smelling like grease after a double shift working the drive.

Dawn: What kept you in the field?

Joe: The fun. The friendships. The adrenaline. The pride of hitting “publish.” More importantly? The fact that some kid from suburban New Jersey can sit across the table from truly dynamic people – from US presidents to the CEOs of some of America’s most iconic companies. I’m not saying this as a flex or for clout. I’m saying this because as journalists, we have the most amazing opportunity to get inside the room and be part of the conversation.

Dawn: Who mentored you along the way?

Joe: So many. People like the [at the time] AP’s Joyce Rosenberg and Ann Sommerlath, the WSJ’s Bob McGough, LA Times crew like Corrigan, Marla Dickerson, and Davan Maharaj. And the smart advice from colleagues like Henry Fuhrmann, Tom Petruno, Stephen Battaglio, S. Mitra Kalita, and Kimi Yoshino.

Dawn: What advice would you give someone entering the field today?

Joe: Stick with it. You’re going to have so much fun, meet incredibly fascinating people, get way too many hangovers, and have stories to tell for a lifetime. Journalism isn’t a career. It’s a calling.

Dawn Wotapka is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who loves to read and write. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children. She is a slow runner and an avid Peloton user. To submit tips for her Media Movers column, you can contact her at dwotapka@gmail.com. Be sure to connect with Dawn on LinkedIn

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