It seemed almost as if the world knew that Kobe Bryant had died Sunday within 60 seconds of the helicopter crash.
TMZ had reported the tragedy and Bryant’s death so quickly that other news outlets had yet to confirm the information. For the next half-hour, hysteria spread throughout the country. Rumors surfaced that all four of Bryant’s children had died. No one knew what was going on.
Not even Bryant’s family.
As the Los Angeles Police Department police later confirmed, TMZ had been so reckless in their race to report the story that the authorities hadn’t yet notified Bryant’s wife and three remaining children. They found out as the rest of us did, amid uncertainty and chaos, and without any concrete information. To be forced to confront the death of a loved one in this way is unconscionable and inhumane.
This is the TMZ business model. In an era where news outlets are rewarded for being the first on the scene, TMZ has capitalized by turning a profit on confusion, shock and controversy.
It is an exemplar of the worst that the media has to offer; the dark and seedy underbelly of news corporations completely unbothered by pesky concepts of ethics, compassion and humanity.
Indeed, it is the new attention economy that has morphed journalism into a glorified competition of who can be the first to deliver the most shocking news story imaginable — regardless of the facts.
In light of this, the Editorial Board is deeply saddened for the family of Kobe Bryant, and hopes fervently for a better, more honest future for the news media.
It is, of course, foolish to hope that newsrooms will ignore the profit motive in being first to report a story. Absent a wholesale change in technology and social media, there is always incentive to being the first. That said, it is not uncalled for to expect human decency and compassion when reporting tragedies that have unimaginable consequences for those involved. It is not sufficient, nor is it moral, to explain away misreporting tragedies as an unfortunate consequence of social media.