Sort of like US Weekly is a cultural reference point, if not an entire worldview,, TMZ is quite simply the most important media force of our time. After all, when media giants like CNN and Time Magazine reflect on the year that was 2007, they will surely reflect mainly on the most important Media Event of the year 2007, the exposure of the contents of Anna Nicole's Refrigerator, and the scrappy Time Warner owned news organization that brought it to us, TMZ. TMZ is saving the art of gumshoe reporting from the homebound hermits of the blogosphere, it is tapping into a cultural zeitgeist, it is instilling in its employees twentysomethings slavish devotion and work ethic, and it is, um, apparently even profitable, according to Time Warner. Little wonder, then, that the media has begun to take not of its new rival — and soon, owner? — first (or perhaps tenth?) with a David Carr column and now with this delicious piece from Brandweek.
"It's sort of like when Google came along," said general manager Alan Citron.
We are so breathless we are hyperventilating, but after the jump Brandweek's Todd Wasserman will walk us through the implications of TMZ's towering significance, dizzying piece by dizzying piece.
Dirty Laundry Dot Com [Brandweek]
TMZ achieved greatness despite a shitty name.
The name stands for "Thirty-Mile Zone," a Hollywood industry term referring to the Los Angeles area.
TMZ is like Google, only without 380 million unique users per month.
"It's sort of like when Google came along," said general manager Alan Citron, drawing an analogy to describe TMZ's rise. "Everyone said, 'We don't need another search engine.' " TMZ isn't Google but, point taken. Its ascension has been astonishingly quick, even by Web standards. In about a year it's gone from having no traffic to clocking 7.5 million unique visitors in December.
TMZ is saving journalism.
TMZ accomplished all this with something many think is obsolete in the Web 2.0 age: Good journalism.
TMZ's crotchety practically geriatric CEO Harvey Levin is not your typical Web 2.0 cyberchief: in fact, his plugged-in youthful reporters still make fun of the time he botched the name of the hip show That's So Raven!
Levin also benefits by having a staff of young, hungry reporters. The staff meets every morning at 7:30 and they're often still there in the middle of the night. Most of his muckrakers have yet to see a 30th birthday, which helps to give the 56-year-old Levin a Steve Jobs-ish charisma, though the age gap sometimes is evident. A source recalls Levin running out of his office with a scoop about the show That's So Raisin. Staffers quickly informed Levin the show is called That's So Raven. Levin still gets chided for the gaffe.
Sources are important.
Top-notch execution and high standards (at least for sources) can propel a new brand to the top of a very crowded category.
The combination of Levin's sources (he seems to have a snitch or two in the Malibu Police Dept.) and that esprit de corps led to TMZ's biggest scoop so far: Mel Gibson's singularly theatrical drunk driving arrest this past August.
Todd Wasserman does not actually know what a "source" is.
On a recent day, the site sported exactly four ads—three from Verizon Wireless and one for Southwest Airlines. Of course, it's anyone's guess what TMZ is charging for those slots.
Ingeniously, TMZ allows readers to "email to a friend" the videos on the site, which enables them to capitalize on a nationwide longing for "social currency," meaning terms like "firecrotch"
After Mel, though, traffic kept improving, largely because readers were rewarded for visiting the site a few times a day, acquiring social currency by passing the latest scandal video on to friends.