On Jan. 26, 2020, former Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant tragically died alongside eight other passengers, including his thirteen year old daughter, Gianna, aboard a helicopter in California. Understandably, the internet went crazy after the news broke, with everyone expressing their sadness and concern for those affected in the crash. Since such a prominent American figure was aboard, tabloids all over the country were jumping at the opportunity to get first word on details of the crash.
The first tabloid to release any information on this accident was TMZ, which was publicly scolded by the Los Angeles Police Department for doing so; a chance had not even been given to inform the victims’ families of the crash before the news broke publicly. In a press conference, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, “It would be extremely disrespectful to understand your loved one has perished and to learn about it from TMZ. That is just wholly inappropriate.” When articles like this are published within an inappropriate time frame, it disregards the fact that celebrities are people too, and their families feel pain just as any other person like you and I would. Because of TMZ’s reporting, a woman found out the earth-shattering news online that she had lost both her daughter and her husband.
Hopping on TMZ’s bandwagon of the unprofessional approach of releasing a statement in the middle of a tragedy, ABC News then came out with false reports as the story developed. According to the New York Times, “Matt Gutman, the chief national correspondent at ABC News, falsely reported that all of Mr. Bryant’s children — four daughters, including an infant — ‘were believed to be’ killed in the crash" (1). It wouldn’t be for another seven hours that this journalist tweeted a correction to his earlier broadcasting statement—but for obvious reasons, the damage was far beyond done. Rumors swirl through the media all the time, but in the name of a tragedy, verified news outlets should not be the ones reporting them to their followers.
There is a clear difference between being an ethical journalist and releasing stories prematurely. It devalues the publications’ reliability, judgement and the morals they abide by. The death of Kobe Bryant shocked everyone in the country, and around the globe as well. There’s no question why this was such a big deal and an important story to cover. With that said, it should also be taken into consideration that the Bryant family is constantly in the public eye, and so their grieving process can be much harsher on them than it would in comparison to the average person. To feel locked inside a fish bowl while the whole country is waiting for your statement on the worst news you have ever (and probably will ever) receive in your life is too much weight for our society to put on a newly widowed mother.
As an aspiring journalist, it can be disheartening to see tabloids constantly releasing articles and statements, then subsequently trekking back on their word. Though it may be important to be the first to report on a breaking story, it’s more important to ensure your publication is one that is reliable and accurate in their information. Beyond this, journalists in general need to identify more with those who are affected in tragedies like the one Kobe and Gianna Bryant were involved in. These families are going through enough as it is. It doesn’t help to put the pressure of the media on their shoulders as well.