TMZ Founder Harvey Levin, a lawyer, a former People’s Court TV interviewer and investigative reporter at KCBS-TV said he plans to challenge what he claims was a civil rights violation. He told RTNA “the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department illegally obtained my cell phone records” in its probe of who leaked a report on Mel Gibson’s 2006 drunken driving arrest, including written details of the actor’s anti-Semitic conversation about Jews. “When I found out what Mel Gibson did, what he said to the deputy, I started calling the Sheriff’s department, “Harvey Levin, founder of TMZ told a Radio TV News Association (RTNA) crowd (Monday, 10-20-09) at a UCLA-City News Service sponsored media workshop. “And what I got back was ‘it happened without incident,’ and when I started citing line and verse what I was told they (the Sheriff’s dept.) lied.”
“I was also told that if you do the story, you will ruin your career, TMZ and you will never get over this.” Levin also said then he found out that, “the deputy had been ordered to removed the information from the report, rewrite the report, and not include any of that.” Levin said he received a dozen phone calls and each time the sheriff’s office denied the report. “Then we got the four pages of the report that had been excised, and the reaction was, ‘we are submitting everything to the district attorney,’” Harvey said. “And when I asked what about the part ‘it happened without incident and you’re going to ruin your career,’ he repeated his line of submitting everything to the DA.” The media workshop was about “Making and Breaking News, and the state of the news business 2009” and Levin actually was breaking news himself, and caught several panelists and journalists in the audience by surprise.
All panelists, V.P. and News Director Jose Rios, KTTV-TV/KCOP-TV, Andy Ludlum, program director KNX/KFWB Radio news, vowed to support Levin’s battle, which he said violates the first amendment, and will “open a Pandora’s box,” Fox KTTA-TV station’s Jose Rios said, “This is not about new media, old media or traditional media, this is an attack on the media and the First Amendment, and I think its institutions like the Sheriff’s dept. sometimes do things that they probably later regret, but I think it is our job to call them on it when we find this behavior.”
KNX-KFWB’s Andy Ludlum when asked about the incident said, “I agree with everyone else, my question for Harvey is- do you feel you have received adequate support from the journalism community here in Los Angeles? Levin replied, “I do. This is very new and we’ve spent the last week looking at things we kind of took for granted, so this really caught us off guard, we had no inkling of this, and it has taken a week just to get our bearings,” he said.
Levin was asked, “What was the motive?” “I don’t think the motive is relevant here, they could have whatever reason for doing this, but it does not justify what they did. I think they (Sheriff’s dept.) are upset that this particular document leaked, because it embarrassed them, because they lied all day, and it was particularly embarrassing because of that.”
Other panelist included Kris Knutsen-managing editor, Local News Service and KNBC-TV and Moderator Frank Mottek, host of KNX Business Hour. The leaking of a police report is not rare, because the story first leaked to the LA Times. Moderator Frank Mottek use the LAT Levin story to kick off the panel discussion.
Evolution of media and news distribution
“I think that for a generation that has already grown up a lot of what we have done has become irrelevant and isn’t because we haven’t done good work, but rather there is a different way of digesting material,” Levin observed in noting the new audiences are getting younger and younger.
“The material can be the same, but treatment matters, which has been difficult for traditional media. If you look at what’s happened to newspapers, radio, television stations and news operations critically, how much have they changed fundamentally in 30 years?,” Levin asked. “For newspapers there weren’t such a thing as videos, or photo galleries, there wasn’t news on demand and there wasn’t the competition that there is now, and the options that people have. You can go forward and make the same argument for magazines, radio stations, TV stations and reality is things have changed.” Vice President and News Director Jose Rios agreed with Harvey and said, “the challenge is we are trying to change an existing structure of TV news.”
And Program Director Andy Ludlum, who’s recent all news radio station went from news to a Newstalk format said, “We have staff we encourage to twitter our stories, because I think people like getting news bits from a reporter like Vicki Moore, than just KNX,” adding new media is good, however people will always listen to radio, because it offers intimacy that the Internet doesn’t,” he said.
“In five years it is pretty clear to me that things are going to move Online, because it is the way of digesting information and it is the way people want it,” said Levin. “It’s the gravity of things, it’s the speed of things, and it’s the ability to get it when you want it, the ability to blend media.”
Levin also believes that Television will not look the same, and TV Online will not look the same, “because it is all evolutionary and Online is going to be very different as everyone at home will have one box that services the web, TV and it will be called something different and it will all be blended together. TV shows will be programmed differently along with everything else.” The most interesting thing about producing Online right now said Levin is people will be looking at a whole new concept, and the big question will be, “How to we deliver programming, information, news in a way that honors or exploits?” The audiences are getting younger, the world has changed dramatically and the media has not,” explained.
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