We’ve all done it. Secretly we take pleasure in laughing at celebrities’ antics caught on camera while ashamedly admitting to our friends that the news we’ve just learned is due to our trusty media source, TMZ. In fact, it’s almost as good as Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d, with the added punch line that the celebrities are actually aware of the cameras surrounding them.
But TMZ has become more than just a site for celebrity-bashing and televised dirty laundry. Reputed news agencies, such as ABC News, now repeatedly rely on TMZ as a legitimate news source. More surprising than the implication that TMZ is actually doing a good job of reporting is the underlying question of what this means for traditional and historically-credited news sources. Relying on TMZ for celebrity news is acceptable to a certain extent. However, that traditional news sources now wait for TMZ to report a story rather than using their own resources to do reports both undermines and discredits the high quality of journalism we have come to expect from time-honored media outlets.
Relying on TMZ for details about celebrity athletes who happen to cheat on their wives with about a dozen other women, the latest in DUIs from the celebrity blonde club (take your pick from Paris Hilton to Lindsay Lohan), and watching as Brad Pitt falls off his motorcycle to escape the paparazzi is understandable. (However, celebrity stalking by the paparazzi should be limited when it comes to posing danger ““ perhaps a topic for a later column.)
TMZ beating other reporters to a story is even understandable. Because TMZ has all of its resources directed toward celebrity cases and has the manpower to practically keep a daily journal of many celebrities’ breathing patterns, it only makes sense that they should be the first to report celebrity incidents.
However, even once TMZ breaks a story, such as the death of Michael Jackson it’s the job of accredited news sources to follow up on the story with the latest and most important updates. Rather than wait for TMZ to report it so that it can be used as a source, news teams should be the first to gather details when events take place. For instance, after Jackson’s death, ABC or another network news source should have been the first to report that his passing was being treated as a murder. Instead, TMZ’s sources were the first to report it, and even after that, ABC’s own eyewitness reporting went M.I.A.
Again, even though traditional news sources should have been on a lookout for any updates with Ryan Jenkins after knowing that police suspected him of murdering his ex-wife and Playboy representative Jasmine Fiore, TMZ reported the details and the shocking news of his suicide first.
I don’t mind that TMZ is getting credit for these stories or boosting its reputation as a legitimate news source ““ I believe in giving credit where credit is due. But what’s happening to the quality of reporting from award-winning journalism that we’ve come to rely on for so many years?
What is disappointing and rather disturbing is that our traditional news sources may be getting either lazy or just using TMZ out of convenience rather than engaging in the active reporting we have come to expect of them. Instead, we lose confidence in those sources we usually look to for detailed reporting, which diminishes the reputation and standards of where we go to learn the news.
According to ABC News, Harvey Levin, the founder of TMZ, describes TMZ’s quick and reliable reporting, especially in his reporters’ ability to break the news about Jackson’s death, as “old-fashioned journalism techniques.”
As Levin put it, “they are the same skills you would use to cover President Obama. You get a tip, chase down the tip, find out if it’s true, you confirm it, you source it, and you publish it.”
At least that’s what we learn in high school’s beginning journalism class. Maybe the professional media needs a refresher course.