If you've ever found yourself wondering how the gossip site TMZ manages to get so many bombshell scoops about celebrities, then a New Yorker profile by Nicholas Schmidle should be mandatory reading. It explains in great detail how the site founded by former lawyer Harvey Levin frequently, and unapologetically, pays big money for the privilege. The piece reveals for instance, that TMZ paid a total of about $105,000 for two elevator surveillance videos showing Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee. And how did it learn of the videos? Surveillance officers at the Atlantic City hotel knew they were on to something juicy and thought immediately of the site. One of them phoned a tip line, and voila. But Levin sometimes uses the information he acquires as more of a bargaining chip, as an incident with Justin Bieber makes clear.
Several years ago, the site paid $80,000 for a stolen video of Bieber, then 15, making a parody of his own song "One Lonely Girl" by inserting the n-word for "girl." When the site reached out for comment, Bieber's people begged Levin to keep the video under wraps, and he finally agreed to do so. Magically, TMZ began getting exclusive access to Bieber's personal life. Levin also pays employees at airlines, limo services, and the like to keep his people informed of celebs' comings and goings, and he defends his strategy as a legit form of journalism. He "would have been a great dictator," says a former cameraman at TMZ. "He is charming enough so that you want to follow him, but terrifying enough so that you don't want to fail." Click to read the full story. (Read more TMZ stories.)