For Journalists, It’s TMZ and Harvey Levin’s World Now

Give credit where it’s due: TMZ.com, the web site and TV franchise run by Harvey Levin, approaches wading through celebrity trash cans with the sort of conviction once reserved for the Pentagon Papers. Small wonder that it was TMZ that broke the Michael Jackson story (as even the Los Angeles Times no doubt grudgingly acknowledged) and which will surely be everywhere over the next several days as new revelations about Jackson’s strange life and death emerge.

Meanwhile, good luck seeing any other serious news over the next few days. Iran? Hang on folks, we’ll catch you later. Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina? Lucky break, pal.

Even when CNN cut to Capitol Hill, it was to catch a “moment of silence” for Jackson. When it turned out that the “moment” had already occurred and they actually were discussing what appeared to be legislation, the network quickly cut back to Jackson-related news. CNN then found a woman who is “one of Michael Jackson’s biggest fans” (I’m not sure who hands out those awards) on Hollywood Boulevard.

Frankly, when TMZ made its debut, I had my doubts about the viability of a web-based service devoted to nothing but celebrity gossip and news. After all, we had seen plenty of similar dot.com ventures rapidly go bust. But Levin — who has a background in local Los Angeles TV news — clearly got where the marketplace was heading, that even national news was drifting toward the tabloid sensibility that TMZ represented.

So congrats, Harvey. For better and mostly worse, it’s your journalistic world now. The rest of us that cover entertainment just live — hanging by our fingertips — in it.

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