Monday, January 9, 2012

For Jan. 12 discussion: TMZ's Levin says media must change or die

Newspapers? They'd better kick print to the curb, or they're done for.

Magazines? Same deal.

Television news? It operates on a old model that no one cares about anymore.

At least, that's what Harvey Levin told the National Press Club late last year.

As creator, executive producer and guy who gets to write on the big glass wall at, Levin has made a lot of money and generated a huge following by creating "news" about the details of famous people's lives. During the press club speech, he told a room full of Washington news correspondents that young people didn't care about the mainstream media anymore, and that by sticking to old formulas and methods of delivery, newspapers and magazines are killing themselves. Likewise, TV news is stuck in an old, increasingly morbid formula that doesn't connect with readers, he said (Levin is a former television news reporter).

Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi writes:
It takes a pinch of chutzpah for Levin to go all media visionary on the Washington press corps, especially considering that Levin’s brainchild, TMZ, became an Internet star based on a brew of Kardashian videos, naughty bits (one of its Monday headlines: “Dancing with the Stars’ — Genital Exposed on Live TV”), and the latest Britney and LiLo legal news.

On the other hand, brashness has been golden for Levin, who is one of the most successful news entrepreneurs of the Internet generation. Levin, 61, seems to know a thing or two about what the celebrity-obsessed public wants. Since its launch in 2005, has become the foremost entertainment-news Web site in the world, with some 20 million unique visitors a month.
Levin argues the future of the news business is on the Internet, which will eventually merge with TV. When that happens, he said, journalism will become faster and more engaging. Farhi relates this argument from Levin:

Traditional journalists should throw off their tired old media, embrace the Web, and not worry so much that the speed and round-the-clock demands of the Internet will compromise traditional values, like accuracy. 
Here is the Washington Post's coverage of Levin's speech. You can watch his speech in its entirety on C-SPAN's website. If you watch the video, you'll hear Levin discuss his ideas on how to address young people. "Young people aren't interested in traditional media for the most part anymore. It doesn't speak to them," he said. The clip is an hour long, but it is worth your time (especially the first half).

Newspapers don't have to die, he says, but they do have to reinvent themselves online. But the way newspapers are trying to do that now aren't working because they are still entrenched in old ways of thinking. In five years, he suggests, media will be radically different - a "revolution" that will be guided by young people in the industry.

At age 61, Levin acknowledges he is "way over" his target demographic. He's interested in people your age. So what do you think? Is he right? How do you feel about what he has to say, given the fact that we're all interested in careers in mass communication? And how did you feel about the Post's coverage of his speech - did they give him a fair shake?


  1. A while back I saw advertisements in newspapers and magazines that said something to the affect of, 'Even with the invention of instant coffee most people prefer the real thing. Isn't it the same with newspapers. Newspapers aren't dead.' I'm sure that isn't the correct wording but it was making the point that just because there is a higher quantity of news made available faster doesn't necessarily mean that newspapers are going to die. While Levin had valid points, TMZ is known for gossip..not news.

    Change is a constant, which does mean that the news industry does need to adapt to the changes. Our generation needs things to grab our attention and entice us in, but that doesn't make any excuses for the quality of the news.

    I think Washington Post's coverage brought both sides to the table. While they did call out TMZ's reporting as not always being trustworthy, they quoted him fairly though out the story.

    This was a very interesting read that left my mind buzzing!

  2. Articles such as this always amaze me. As an avid reader and someone who prefers print versions of books, magazines and newspapers, I find some of Levin's thoughts disturbing. I am not doubting TMZ's abilities to attract readers and report stories, but I think it is important to think of the audience they are attracting. It is unfair to categorize the youth as people with short attention spans who don't care what format the news is presented to them.

    Levin says,“What is the magic of holding a piece of paper in the air when you read?” he asked. “You [in the news media] think you have to preserve this? Why?”

    I think it is important for readers to have options. Levin seemed narrow minded and almost cynical about the doom of the printed word. Journalism is constantly changing and always will with the help of new technologies. The bottom line is that no matter the source, journalists have an obligation to report the news accurately.

    I thought the Post's coverage was fair and showed both sides of the argument. I agree with Alex in that the Post questions TMZ and some of Levin's thoughts, but they quoted him fairly throughout the article.

  3. There is a lot of validity in the statement that journalism needs to change to keep up with the times. I don't believe that by leaving all of our old notions of journalism, the business will completely change and be all we want it to be. But maybe morphing is a better verb to describe what needs to happen here.

    There is a huge demographic of young audience that only really listens to U.S. Hollywood entertainment. In light of that, there should be articles that attract them. But to think that only appealing to this specific audience will boost journalism is invalid. This idea means that we would be pandering to shallow audiences that need entertainment to escape (my perception is cynical, can't you tell?). This is also an incorrect perception of journalism.

    Though Levin was quoted appropriately and the article was well written, TMZ is known for a particular facet of "news" and in my opinion, one TMZ is enough.

  4. I agree that TMZ's main purpose is to report the entertainment aspect of news. However, not everyone is interested in that material, and it targets a younger demographic.

    Even though Levin says that newspapers don't have to die, I think he secretly believes they will have to in the end. He also states, "young people aren't intersted in traditional media for the most part anymore." If that's true, then why do I still enjoy reading the Plain Dealer when I'm home, or why do I see students everywhere on campus with newspapers in their hands? I still think they enjoy traditional media. Even though Levin is one of the most successful news entrepreneurs of the Internet generation, I don't think he knows everything that he is talking about. Yes he has gotten far in his life, but he shouldn't automatically assume that young adults don't care about traditional media. There is more to news than solely the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and I think Levin needs to take a look at that.

  5. I think that Levin is correct in the fact that the world of news is indeed changing. More people are turning to the internet to get their daily news because they don't want to wait to know what is happening now. This being said, I don't think that media must change or die all together. There will always be those people, me being one, that just prefer to read newspapers and magazines over looking at them online.

    "Traditional journalists should throw off their tired old media, embrace the Web, and not worry so much that the speed and round-the-clock demands of the Internet will compromise traditional values, like accuracy, he said." This section of the article really struck me. The idea or compromising accuracy just seems ridiculous to me. Accuracy may not be critical in entertainment news, which Levin has made his mark. However in news or a breaking story, accuracy is what holds the story together. Also as Katie said above, it is our obligation.

    I think that the Post gave Levin a fair story and quoted him well throughout. It would've been easy for them to keep the article one sided and point out all of the flaws of TMZ. However, they did focus on the success that Levin has had over the years and made him a credible source.

  6. I agree that newspapers and magazines do need to make drastic changes in order to be successful and not fall by the waist-side. However, I think that TV has been able to adapt more and revolutionize itself.
    A lot of shows now are very interactive with their viewers. They'll post questions on Facebook and Twitter and have the viewers' answers on the screen and maybe read the ones they like the most on air. Also through Facebook and Twitter, news shows now read viewer questions that they have posted on a certain subject and answer them live on TV. This helps the people feel like they have a voice and because of that they can get into the news a lot more. In today's day and age where basically everyone can become a "journalist" because of social media sites and blogs, it helps to see your thoughts, questions, and opinions be debated by the people paid to break the news everyday.

  7. As a student studying journalism it is difficult for me to remove myself from the issue. I honestly don’t know if I would hold any interest for print media if my passions didn’t lie within the field.

    I am very wary of TMZ. Most of their sources willingly live in the public eye and make money from publicity and constant coverage. Though there is a demand for celebrity news, there are not enough checks and balances to persuade me to take it seriously.

    It is foolish, however, to state that all traditional forms of news and journalism should be abolished in favor of more interactive, innovative methods. Sure, websites need to be more accessible but I’m not sure I’d ever want an interactive news story. I’ve never read a print newspaper on a regular basis, yet have never struggled to stay up-to-date with current events. Does anyone lack access to the news?

    Recently, Facebook has joined with some news outlets and will post to your profile each time you read a story. This has got to be an attempt at targeting a new audience, but it is misguided. I don’t want news on my Facebook, I don’t want to have which articles I read available for all to see. Sure, advancements are the catalyst to change and it is obvious journalism needs a new strategy, but the answer isn’t to blitzkreig each social media outlet with links.

    The medium in which the news is delivered is secondary to the information itself.

  8. True, media is changing. I just wonder why all the focus is on the printed page. Newspapers are adapted--perhaps slower than they should, but there is still change. NYTimes offers video recaps of the days events. The Journal has a live stream of news for hours every day. Websites are getting more interactive. Why, then, will these institutions die out?

    As other people stated, I'm not too hot on TMZ. They are, for the most part, a bunch of paparazzi. For Levin to use TMZ as an example of change--I think he's missing the point. People love TMZ because it's gossip, it's entertainment news. It's the same reason why people read US Weekly or People over the NYTimes magazine. Some stuff is just less difficult and more rewarding in terms of overall pleasure. Which is to say--it will do better in the general public. Which may not have always been the case, but that's how it has been in my lifetime, even before the advent of mainstream internet and the progression of the 'death of the newspaper industry'. Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that hard journalism, the likes of which can be found in newsprint, is not going to die--it can't. It's too necessary for the general public, and if it falls off in one area, it will be picked up in another.

    And sure, the Post may have been overly critical, but he is targeting them, is he not?

  9. I think Levin is correct in saying that print will be obsolete soon, and even that TV and internet will become enmeshed. It seems as if he could be a true visionary, I agree with most of his arguments.

    If this all becomes true it creates an ample job market for students around our age. Who is better prepared to handle an electronic news environment than the generation who grew up during the birth of the internet?

    I agree that the coverage of his speech was fair and representative. I thought the media could have bombarded him with pointless questions about the Kardashians, and thankfully, they chose to respect Levin and stick to the story.

  10. I think Levin is absolutely correct. I think print is slowly diminishing, but I don't think that means that newspapers are going to end. Most papers are already accessible online and are making efforts to keep up with the changing of values in our generation.

    Change is not a bad thing. As a future journalist, I am excited to be a part of this change into the digital era and I really look forward to our generation leading the way and making the news even more successful on a new medium.

  11. First of all, the author of the story is an excellent writer.

    Levin has guts, I would never be able to stand up in front of the National Press Club and say the things that he said. His antics, though, are reminiscent of the celebrities that he follows, and indicate what kind of journalist he actually is. TMZ is after all about the shock factor. As a journalist sitting in the room I would have taken it with a grain of salt.

    His statement that mainstream journalism needs to change has some validity to it but, I think, some extreme points are included.

    I do not think that the average reader of the Washington Post would like to see stories developing in the newsroom, plus you can see them working when any one of their reporters shows up on MSNBC, FOX or any other broadcast. There is a mysticism about how a story gets onto the front page that makes the reader want to read it.

    And as for totally abandoning print: phooey. What are people going to read on airplanes? Plus local papers probably could not afford to totally abandon their print editions.

    I would not have been able to write this story, especially if I were a journalist in Washington. The author does a good job at not slanting his story in a way that sheds bad light onto Levin.

  12. I think he is right. As people who consider ourselves "journalists" we have a bias, sure we may pay attention to the newspapers and "old media" but we need to look at our peers.

    What people care about is flash, and that is what is making the most money right now in the internet age. The media outlets who are stuck on making the "daily miracle" of churning out a newspaper will die off. I believe their efforts could be much better focus putting out web content.

    People our age are on Twitter, Facebook or their favorite news app to receive their news, and they want it 10 minutes ago. Newspapers are finding this hard to do.