Sunday, June 28, 2009

TMZ Said to Pay for Tips, Quotes

I cited WeSmirch a couple of nights ago, in my post on Michael Jackson's final rehearsal. The dirt-dishing gossip site features lots of TMZ articles. It turns out that TMZ broke its biggest story in reporting the death of Michael Jackson. Yet, widespread legitimacy is still elusive for the website.

Check the story at the Los Angeles Times, "
Michael Jackson may be turning point for TMZ." This part on paying to tips and quotes is pretty interesting:

The site's hard-charging reporting tactics and impressive record of accuracy have drawn stunned admiration from rivals but also angry denunciations from actors, public relations representatives and government agencies.

TMZ earlier this year posted what looked like an evidence photo of pop singer Rihanna's battered face after a fight with boyfriend Chris Brown. Outraged Los Angeles Police Department officials promptly launched an investigation into the leak, which the judge at Brown's trial last month said was possibly criminal.

"There are documents that come out that they get that frankly they never should," said Courtney Hazlett, a columnist and celebrity correspondent for "The Rihanna photo is Exhibit 1A."

Lurking behind much of the suspicion is a sense that TMZ is flouting not so much the law as journalistic ethics. Rivals have consistently accused Levin and company of paying for information. Most news-gathering organizations do not allow reporters and editors to pay sources for tips or quotes, although it has become a common practice for magazines and TV news shows to pay tens of thousands of dollars for exclusive access to celebrity weddings or baby pictures, often with interviews included as part of the arrangements.

"Why would somebody who works in the hospital give them the information? Out of the goodness of their heart?" said Rob Silverstein, executive producer of NBC Universal's "Access Hollywood," referring to the tip that led to the Jackson report. However, he conceded that he did not have "absolute proof" that TMZ was paying for information.

TMZ officials in the past have dismissed the skepticism. "People bring us stories because they want to see them get out," Paratore said in a recent interview. But Saturday, Levin, who repeatedly refused to be interviewed for this report, was quoted in the New York Times as saying the site pays "tip fees" that lead to stories, but not for stories outright, without explaining the distinction.