Like with Michael Jackson’s passing, TMZ may have been the first to break news on the death of Prince, but its respect among traditional news outlets is far from strong.
Examining the reason for the media’s hesitancy in attributing major celebrity-related news to TMZ, The Washington Post notes that it, along with outlets such as the New York Times, the Guardian and BBC, delayed it’s report on Prince’s passing until the Associated Press confirmed the death through the iconic entertainer’s publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure.
For the record, TMZ posted news of Prince’s death around 12:50 p.m. Eastern Time. The AP confirmed the tragedy 17 minutes later, with the other outlets following suit with referencing the AP’s dispatch from Chanhassen, Minn.
While TMZ “has been quite reliable on many major stories,” the Post acknowledges, “mainstream news sources are reluctant to rely on its say-so alone.”
“The news, in effect, doesn’t become news until another source matches TMZ’s reporting,” the Post stated as it went into reasons behind the distrust.
Those reasons include TMZ referring to “multiple sources” without naming a specific person. As a result, the tabloid site’s reporting is met with caution, despite its track record.
“It’s definitely a discussion in the newsroom as to whether to blast out something based on TMZ,” Sharon Waxman, the founder and editor in chief of entertainment site TheWrap, told the Post, adding, “I think TMZ has earned the right to be a single citable source on breaking news.”
Waxman’s comments run into a wall as The Wrap was among the outlets that waited until AP’s dispatch moved to post the news about Prince on Thursday. According to the Post, it was Waxman’s deputies, who were running the newsroom at the time, who decided to rely on the AP’s confirmation.
Nevertheless, Waxman admitted that she was comfortable with the delay, even though it may have cost The Wrap getting the scoop on the competition by a few minutes. “The discussion we’ve had about TMZ is that they’re right about 90 percent of the time,” she said. “We’d prefer 99 percent-plus, if we can’t break the news ourselves.”
At the heart of doubts from traditional media is TMZ’s tabloid reputation and nature as well as its confession about paying sources for information, a practice that is considered a breach of traditional newsroom ethics.
Major scoops TMZ broke with the help of paid sources include security camera footage of football star Ray Rice beating his then-fiancée in 2014 as well as police records of Mel Gibson’s drunk-driving arrest and anti-Semitic rant in 2006 and the death of Michael Jackson in 2009 and Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racists remarks in a phone call to his mistress in 2013. The sources for those stories collected five-figure fees to disclose sensitive and legally-protected details to TMZ, which further fans the flames of distrust with rarely revealing its sources, paid or otherwise.
“TMZ founder Harvey Levin previously dismissed such concerns, saying that many celebrity-oriented publications pay for information and that a piece of video or a phone recording supplied by a paid source is no less truthful than a recording leaked by someone who wasn’t paid,” the Post mentioned.
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