There was a moment when Sharon Waxman wondered if her staff would run out of things to write about.
As CEO and founder of TheWrap.com, Waxman leads a newsroom covering Hollywood, an industry shut down by the global pandemic.
“Normally, our news cycle is driven by movie releases coming out and things going into production,” Waxman said. “None of that is happening, of course.”
The day that Los Angeles issued its Safer At Home orders in March, Waxman sent employees home from TheWrap’s Los Angeles office and started running a remote newsroom. Since then, she’s been on the same rollercoaster as everyone else.
“It feels challenging,” she said. “It’s really up and down. Sometimes you feel like the days are endless. You look at the clock and it’s 2pm and you’re exhausted. There’s a level of intensity from working from home – there’s no taking breaks or going out for lunch with a colleague.
“But also, there are moments of real exhilaration.”
TheWrap team hasn’t run out of things to write about. In fact, the company has pivoted quickly to engage readers now stuck at home and craving connection and community.
Within a couple weeks of the COVID-19 shutdown, TheWrap launched a live webinar series featuring prominent industry players to discuss topics ranging from TV pilot season to personal finance to wellness. In June, thousands of people joined the site’s livestream for a conversation on racial injustice with an expert panel including a TV star, sports analyst and political strategist.
“We launched a podcast, we created a virtual screening series. We’ve been very busy building new products and rolling them out,” Waxman said. “That’s the exhilarating part. You’re feeling that you’re of use to the community, and that is very gratifying and worth the effort.”
The site’s content strategy has shifted to reflect current events, with writers contributing personal essays on race and culture. The podcast has featured Black journalists discussing how hard it is to cover the news right now.
Don’t feel like you have to stay in your lane, Waxman told her staff: “Write about what you’re passionate about. Raise your hand and say, I want to write about this. The answer has been yes.”
Amidst the challenge of navigating COVID and what has become a watershed moment in American race relations, Waxman has had to keep her staff focused and centered. Dealing with toxic news every day takes a toll.
The staff takes yoga classes together and meets for Friday afternoon “Wrappy Hour” calls on Zoom. Waxman occasionally tells someone to take a day off.
Communication, or as is Waxman’s M.O., over-communication, has been key.
“We’re leaning really hard into communication and transparency, and also listening just as hard,” she said.
That extends to listening to the needs of TheWrap’s users, as well: “For me it was, how do we deepen our relationship with our reader at a moment when they really need us?”
This experience will change the future of her business, Waxman said.
“All media companies and all entertainment companies, too, have to look at this moment as an existential matter,” she said. “To get through this and survive to see another day, you have to be laser-focused on what really matters.”
TheWrap has successfully turned its focus to the digital space and building its community there by understanding the needs of its users and executing solutions quickly. And that’s in the DNA of its founder.
“It doesn’t take any more time to do it now or do it over two weeks,” Waxman said. “Whether you spend an hour a day or spend eight hours a day doing it, it takes the same amount of time.
“People will say, ‘I’ll get back to you in two weeks’ and I say, ‘No, get back to me this week.’”