Looking back at many of the big stories of the year, from the death of Michael Jackson to the news that Comcast was going to buy NBC to the Tiger Woods post-Thanksgiving night driving incident and subsequent scandal, it’s a pretty safe bet that the majority of Americans first heard something about these events on the Internet.
And hands down the site that’s been on the forefront of much of the news this year—with scoop after scoop on celebrity news, is TVWeek’s Internet Site of the Year, TMZ.com.
It was TMZ that first reported Jackson’s death—and it took three hours for other media outlets to confirm it.
Most recently, it was TMZ that first told of Woods’ auto mishap in the wee-hours after Thanksgiving.
We spoke to the site’s founder and driving force, Harvey Levin, last week. Levin is a lawyer who’s been in journalism for years now.
Levin wasn’t too pleased with our interview. He thought we were too negative. We didn’t tell him about the honor we were about to bestow upon the site—he’ll learn that when he reads this.
Levin wasn’t happy about our very first question. We asked why he thought the site didn’t get as much respect as it might deserve from the mainstream press. For example, the New York Times, for days when it first reported on the Tiger Woods story, refused to cite TMZ in its primary news stories about the incident.
And Jim Herre, the managing editor of the Sports Illustrated Golf Group, said during a recent roundtable discussion, "The real eye-opener for me has been how TMZ.com and Radaronline.com have been cited as credible sources by lots of media outlets, even though the websites’ sourcing is beyond flimsy. The fact is, we really don’t know what’s true and what’s not."
Levin said that since TMZ has indeed been quoted by so many in the mainstream press that he doesn’t pay any attention to those who don’t cite them.
But then he added,“I think that a lot of mainstream media is either struggling or dying right now. That’s reality. What’s happened is, some of them are having trouble reconciling the success of online with the demise of some areas of traditional media that are just going to disappear over the next five years.”
Next we asked him how TMZ is able to get its scoops. An edited transcript of our interview, conducted by TVWeek’s Chuck Ross, follows.