Levin guiding TMZ to beyond 30-mile zone


As a former investigative reporter, TMZ.com's Harvey Levin is used to spotlighting the dramas and newsworthy events of others. So it is no surprise that his own recent tenure as media pundit has been unsettling to him, if not odd.

"It's been crazy, and I really have no perspective on it," says Levin, struggling to express a complete thought about the attention the site has received since breaking the Mel Gibson story. "Part of it has been ... you feel the importance of it when you know the news is this big ... to watch it kind of unfold is stunning."

Also stunning to Levin have been comments posted on the site directed at him.

"It's really been a little troubling," he says. "There's been a lot of hatred toward me by a lot of people who think this is a Jew attacking Mel Gibson."

Since the story emerged, TMZ's managing editor -- who in a past life was a reporter at KCBS Los Angeles for a decade and an attorney -- has made more than 100 appearances at news outlets ranging from the New York Times to CNN, speaking about how TMZ (an old-school term for Hollywood's 30-mile production zone) broke the story and the virtues of news reporting over the Web.

Before the Gibson saga, the video-driven site was the first to show myriad celebrity-focused stories -- from the drunken public scathing of Lindsay Lohan by rich oil heir Brandon Davis to PETA besieging Beyonce at an uptown New York eatery.

It is ironic then that the self-described computer illiterate who recalls his days as executive producer at "Celebrity Justice" -- where "co-workers would hear shrieks coming from my office as I hit my computer screen in frustration" -- has found the Internet platform to be particularly dynamic.

"Having done TV for years, it was always saddled by time periods where you'd have to sit and wait for programming," he says. "In our case, we find something that nobody knows about, and as soon as we get it right, we get it up."

Levin also says "getting it right" in this case is free of any conflicts of interestfrom TMZ's ownership by parent company and Hollywood-connected Time Warner.

"Hey look ... even the Mel Gibson story has consequences, but the word from Time Warner has been 'if your story is accurate, publish it,' " says Levin.

What he says he mostly has learned since TMZ's December launch is that "TV doesn't work on the Web."

"People on the Internet are far less tolerant, and you have to be respectful of their time and play something for what it's worth," he says.

And to those who denigrate the site's tabloid nature -- what Levin refers to as "edgy" -- he only scoffs.

"Here's the deal: My job is not to dictate what people should look at, and it's ridiculous for anyone to do that. People have choices now ... and if they want to see Britney Spears coming out of Starbucks, who am I to judge," he says. "We present an unvarnished look at entertainment. We're not another venue to show wax figures on a red carpet ... we want to show what's real."

With more than 10 million unique visitors going to TMZ daily, the reality of which Levin speaks has extended far beyond the original "30-mile zone" of Hollywood.