How TMZ Gets Its Scoops

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How does celebrity news site TMZ get all that dirt? New Yorker writer Nicholas Schmidle gives us the scoop.

TMZ founder Harvey Levin, left, with Kris Jenner at a gala in Los Angeles on May 7, 2013. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
TMZ founder Harvey Levin, left, with Kris Jenner at a gala in Los Angeles on May 7, 2013. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

The celebrity news site TMZ has Los Angeles wired. Airline staff, limo drivers, court officials, lawyers - all feeding the big appetite for celebrity dirt. And TMZ will pay. They’re like the CIA, says one judge. And they break big headlines. On Ray Rice, Mel Gibson, Rihanna’s beaten face.  How does that work, exactly? The New Yorker's Nicholas Schmidle has found out. This hour On Point, how TMZ works. And what if that kind of digging was done on politicians? Tycoons?
-- Tom Ashbrook


Nicholas Schmidle, staff writer for the New Yorker. His investigative piece for the New Yorker titled "The Digital Dirt: How TMZ gets the videos and photos that celebrities want to hide," was published online earlier this week. (@nickschmidle)

Kristen Hare, reporter covering media at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. (@kristenhare)

From Tom's Reading List

New Yorker: The Digital Dirt — "TMZ resembles an intelligence agency as much as a news organization, and it has turned its domain, Los Angeles, into a city of stool pigeons. In an e-mail from last year, a photographer reported having four airport sources for the day, including 'Harold at Delta, Leon at Baggage service, Fred at hudson news, Lyle at Fruit and nut stand.' A former TMZ cameraman showed me expense reports that he had submitted in 2010, reflecting payments of forty or fifty dollars to various sources: to the counter girl at a Beverly Hills salon, for information on Goldie Hawn; to a valet, for Pete Sampras; to a shopkeeper, for Dwight Howard; and to a waiter, for Hayden Christensen."

Esquire: Everything About This Massive TMZ Expose Will Shock You (But It Shouldn't) — "Everyone, at one point or another, reads TMZ or watches one of the two TMZ TV shows. And if you don't–but, let's be honest, you do—you're still coming in contact with the celebrity news juggernaut, because every major news outlet winds up covering TMZ's scoops."

The Guardian: How TMZ's high prince of sleaze became the King of Hollywood — "To his critics, Levin and TMZ represent the public face of a modern media obsessed with celebrities and their meaningless antics. The methods TMZ employs illustrate an era where nothing is private any more and anything can be caught on video by someone with a cellphone. To his defenders, he is a wildly successful journalist – responsible for scores of scoops – who is following in a long tradition of gossip journalism that harks back to the 1920s and 1930s."

This program aired on February 17, 2016.


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