This Is How Much TMZ Pays For Its Biggest Celebrity Scoops

PHOTO: Matteo Prandoni/BFAnyc.com/REX Shutterstock
The New Yorker is taking a closer look at TMZ, digging up all the dirt about the site celebrities hate but real people love to read.

In the New Yorker feature, "The Digital Dirt," the magazine explores "how TMZ gets the videos and photos that celebrities want to hide." And, no surprise to hear, it involves throwing around a lot of money.

Since 2005, TMZ and its founder, Harvey Levin, have been first to many stories, thanks to a tip line that allows anyone to call or email in tips about celebrity gossip that includes George Clooney's wedding and Nicki Minaj's famous derriere — all real tips revealed in leaked emails to The New Yorker.

These bits of information do not come cheap, though. The magazine found that TMZ reportedly paid $5,000 for footage of Drake accidentally dropping thousands of dollars outside a Washington strip club. The surveillance footage of Solange attacking Jay Z inside an elevator after the 2014 Met Gala was also reportedly bought for $5,000 — though it was originally reported as going for $250,000.

While some may question TMZ's values, the website does require proof of what it reports in the form of videos, photos, or police records, and does have certain lines it will not cross. The New Yorker says Levin isn't interested in "targeting minors or policing bedroom affairs" that could lead to families being torn apart.

One example of Levin holding back is a clip of a 15-year-old Justin Bieber singing his song "One Less Lonely Girl," but replacing "girl" with "[racial slur]." Levin decided it was better to form a relationship with Bieber than post the video that could kill his career. That clip was later posted by The Sun in 2014, three years after Levin was made aware of it. TMZ would cover the leak.

It's clear that TMZ deals with gossip, but only certain kinds it deems worthy. When it passes TMZ's litmus test, the website has no qualms paying for original footage that will lead to clicks. While some may not see this as a credible way to report news, this practice has helped the website become a more credible source.

TMZ was the first outlet to post footage from inside the elevator during Ray Rice's attack of his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, which showed him punching her unconscious. Up until then, only the footage of Rice dragging Palmer's body out of the elevator had been revealed. The second Rice video — reportedly obtained by an employee of the Revel casino who recorded the footage from the original video with his phone — resulted in the Baltimore Ravens player's suspension from the NFL. TMZ reportedly paid $90,000 for the clip, which was proof of what really happened, and led to some established journalists praising the website.

Levin — who declined The New Yorker's requests for an interview — has defended the way he finds his news, telling a radio station in 2013, "You could take me, put me in Afghanistan, and I'll use the same principles I'd use with Britney Spears."

But some, like Alec Baldwin, who's been a celebrity TMZ has loved to cover over the years (it was the source of that voicemail to his daughter, the one in which he called her a "rude, thoughtless little pig"), have trouble seeing the outlet as a real news source or respecting the way Levin chooses to do business.

"There was a time when my greatest wish was to stab Harvey Levin with a rusty implement and watch his entrails go running down my forearm, in some Macbethian stance. I wanted him to die in my arms, while looking into my eyes, and I wanted to say to him, 'Oh, Harvey, you thoughtless little pig,'" Baldwin told The New Yorker. "He is a festering boil on the anus of American media."
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