By Ben Cohen
Continuing the topic of new media journalism, the celebrity gossip site TMZ’s ascendancy to the top of the internet food chain is another sign of a radically shifting paradigm in news reporting.
Stephen Brooks explains how founder Harvey Levin manages to routinely break massive stories with his vast network of informants and on the ground ‘reporters’. Levin’s network is so ruthlessly efficient, that he managed to break the news that Michael Jackson had died 6 minutes before he was officially pronounced dead:
By the time Jackson was officially declared dead, at 2.26pm Los
Angeles time last Thursday, one of the site’s sources within the
corridors of the UCLA Medical Centre (it has a vast network that
blankets the city) had already tipped it off.
dead was the scoop of a lifetime for any media outlet, and the apogee
of the four-year-old celebrity-obsessed site that boasts its snippets
are “even more fascinating than the hype”. In that time, TMZ (the name
stands for thirty-mile zone, the area of central LA thickly populated
with stars), which is as voyeristic as it is speedy, has become one of
the world’s most quoted sources of entertainment news, with rival
sites, TV channels and traditional gossip columns, such as the New York
Post’s infamous Page Six, quoting it regularly.
I’m not a fan of celebrity gossip sites – I think they are poisonous and mostly destructive. They glorify celebrities, then tear them down, ruin lives of famous people and destroy the confidence of self conscious readers. If I have daughters, celebrity sites and magazines will be banned from my house until they are old enough to put them in perspective.
But their incredible ingenuity and dynamic structure could be replicated in the online news media, and a more bare bones, economically efficient design could be created. ‘The Real News‘ works a little bit like TMZ. They have an interesting business model (built solely on subscriptions), and rely on a network of independent reporters and contributors around the world to provide analysis and original reporting. I think their site could definitely do with some tweaking (their video reports are sometimes organized in a confusing way), but they are learning fast.
If the new media is to become economically viable, they will have to learn to operate on small budgets, collaborate with other sites/reporters, and brand themselves properly. People still want seroius news, but it may not come in the format we’re traditionally used to. Journalists need to get paid for their work, and sites/networks must figure out a way to monetize content in order to do so. Wages may go down initially (and they are as we speak), but once a successful format is figured out, it can be replicated an improved on. It’s early days in the world of internet journalism, and it’s not pretty out there right now. But sites like TMZ, as offensive as they are, may be providing a glimpse of the future.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.