Ask the Tough Questions

Kim Masters ’76 shares her thoughts about journalism, the Time's Up movement, and what's next.

Kim Masters ’76 has a career many would envy. She is editor-at-large of the Hollywood Reporter; host of KCRW’s The Business; and author of several books. Previously, she was a correspondent for NPR; contributing editor at Vanity Fair, Time, and Esquire; and staff reporter at the Washington Post. She’s won numerous awards for work in multiple media.

Q: How did your experience at Bryn Mawr prepare you for your leadership in the field of journalism?

"When I graduated from Bryn Mawr, I still had no clear idea what I wanted to do for a living. I was interested in journalism, but it was a very competitive field. I was constantly hearing tales of graduates who could not get a toehold. But Bryn Mawr taught me that I could think for myself, that my ideas were valid and maybe even interesting. That helped give me the confidence to handle interviews with enormously powerful people and to ask the tough questions even in the face of hostility or ridicule. Special credit here goes to the great Katrin Burlin, who inspired so many of us. How I wish I could thank her again for her guidance and encouragement."

Q: How has the field of journalism changed—and how has it stayed the same?

"Journalism of course changed with the advent of the internet—for better and worse. The fundamentals of putting together stories are the same, but we are in a 24-hour news cycle, and that means the pressure is more constant and hours are now even more irregular than they were before. Sources call and stories break at any time, even on evenings and weekends. When someone asks what my deadline is, often I just say, 'When we push the button.' The competition to break news is more intense. It means many more people can generate stories that may or may not be journalistically sound. It also means even stories that wouldn’t pass muster for me may be circulated globally in minutes. On the other hand, research has become so much easier that I often wonder how we did our jobs before the internet."

Q: What is the most rewarding professional experience you’ve had so far?

"I could never choose one experience as my most rewarding. I have done a vast array of stories that were thrilling to report. Among them was my first front-page investigative story in the Washington Post about a Smithsonian scientist caught selling licenses to hunt threatened or endangered species in Asia with the understanding that he would smuggle in trophies as scientific specimens. (There were congressional hearings, and he was indicted.) I have done profiles on fascinating people—political figures, Olympic skater Oksana Baiul, a beloved relief worker who vanished in Chechnya—and I even scored the first interview with Lorena Bobbitt for Vanity Fair. Journalism is great because it can offer such a range of experiences and so many surprises. More than once, I’ve been in the midst of reporting a story and asked myself, 'How did I get here?'

"And there were stories that were just very fun. Visiting the amazing set of Titanic and talking with James Cameron about a project that at the time was expected to be a disaster. Interviewing Steven Spielberg. And I’ve had a fascinating array of guests on my public radio show, The Business: Guillermo del Toro (twice), Jordan Peele, Alejandro Iñárritu, Bryan Cranston, Ava Duvernay (twice), Matt Damon, Pam Adlon—it’s a long list. And Amy Sherman-Palladino, who created The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Of course, I mentioned to her that, like the heroine of her show, I’m a Mawrter.

"More recently I have done a lot of rewarding work related to the Time’s Up movement, including breaking big stories that led to the resignation of the head of Amazon Studios [Roy Price] and a possibly permanent leave of absence for Disney Animation/Pixar chief John Lasseter."

Q: Can you tell us about the resistance you encountered when trying to publish those stories?

"I had been working on the Amazon story months before the exposés about [Harvey] Weinstein were published, but I encountered an alarming degree of resistance to publication. I’ve faced many legal threats over the years, but I had never seen one strike so much fear into the hearts of editors. Roy Price had retained Lisa Bloom and Charles Harder—the two lawyers who initially represented Harvey, and it’s a fair bet that Harvey is the one who recommended them to Roy. Harder had represented Hulk Hogan in a suit that devastated Gawker. That case was about invasion of privacy—the publication of a sex tape—while mine was about workplace conduct, but in that moment, Harder was very much feared. Also my sources were legitimately too fearful to go on the record, which is not ideal. But I had six who said they would come forward and testify if Price actually sued. (I detailed the entire process in a Columbia Journalism Review piece, including false allegations about me that Bloom repeated to multiple publications.)

"For a while, I thought the chilling effect of the Hulk Hogan victory would be devastating to journalism, but fortunately the fear began to subside."

Q: Tell us more about the #MeToo movement in Hollywood. How would you characterize it—and how did we get there?

"I think the #MeToo movement arose in part because the allegations against Harvey Weinstein finally were revealed and were even more shocking than many of us who had heard terrible rumors about his behavior for years could have imagined. That, coinciding with Trump in the White House, was a catalyst for a great deal of anger over years of misconduct in Hollywood and just about everywhere.

Q: Is the depiction of women in TV and film shifting because of the social changes afoot?

"Representations of women have been changing, and I think that’s accelerating. Black Panther is being praised for its strong female characters. Wonder Woman was a hugely important moment in popular culture. And thanks to stories in several publications pointing out the seeming bias in its programming, we saw Amazon launch more female-fronted shows. The studio gave its first-ever two-season commitment to one of its female creators, Amy Sherman-Palladino. And that was before it hired Jen Salke to run the place."

Q: You have said that an infusion of new and diverse leadership is needed in Hollywood. Do you think that change will come? Will that spread into other industries?  

"I hope there will be meaningful opportunities for more diverse leadership in Hollywood and everywhere. At this point, the statistics are still very grim, but it was known in Hollywood that Amazon only considered women candidates to replace Roy Price. ICM has committed to gender parity, with an emphasis on its leadership, by 2020. The longer we keep the conversation alive, the more likely it is that the boys’ club will recede into history.

"That’s one reason we are committed to telling stories of misconduct even if some readers complain that we’ve done enough. The conduct must be exposed and eradicated.

"The only way to achieve meaningful change is through more representation of women and people of color at the top."

Kim Masters '76

First Person

Kim Masters on one of her toughest battles in journalism: Fighting 'the Gawker Effect' in the Wake of Weinstein. Columbia Journalism Review, October 2017.