Writing this on the first anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s memorial service is sadly ironic and eternally frustrating, as it serves as a dejected reminder of just how unprofessional and chaotic the media landscape can be, as both of these unfortunate events were so recklessly covered.
In case you forgot, TMZ told the world that Bryant was dead before his family had even been notified. And somehow Rick Fox’s name got caught up in the whirlwind, as his loved ones thought he was dead.
Far too often, bloggers and media personalities masquerade as journalists. This sad truth, along with the loss of copy editors in newsrooms and society’s social media addiction, has given rise to a new strain of content that is often intoxicating but rarely accurate.
Look, the competitive aspect of this industry will never go away, and that’s fine, but only when there’s an underlying drive to get the story right. The same tricks that used to sell newspapers are now deployed in service of clicks and pageviews. Content producers just want to be first now, not first and right. It’s reminiscent of how The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan described coverage of Bryant’s death last year:
If the media world were ruled by thoughtfulness, rigor and ethics, TMZ wouldn’t have broken the news about Sunday’s helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others before all the families were notified.
The president of the United States would not have tweeted out inaccurate information about the number of people killed.
The BBC would not have shown a video clip of another Los Angeles Lakers superstar, LeBron James, instead of Bryant, and an ABC News reporter surely would not have said on air that all four of Bryant’s daughters were believed to be among the crash victims.
Twitter’s trending section would not have illustrated the Bryant news with a photo of the late sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein.
But what rules the media world in 2020 is the drive to be first, at any cost, and the rush to get something — anything, it sometimes seems — on an outlet’s site.
In any major breaking news event, whether a hurricane or school shooting, you can assume that some of the early coverage will be wrong. The Kobe Bryant story was an especially bad example of that truism.
As the tweets, alerts, and headlines about Woods’ accident began to pop up on my phone and TV, I watched in the same way I did a year ago when the news of Bryant’s helicopter crash went viral. It was like watching a re-shoot of a bad movie, but noticing that the writers and directors were making the same mistakes they did in the original cut.
Were Woods’ injuries life-threatening or not? Was serious damage done to his legs, or was he OK? Was this bad driving, or were alcohol and narcotics potentially involved? And then there were those who thought this was a hoax. They’ve since deleted those tweets, but we know who they are. The damage is already done.
However, the most mind-boggling moment on Tuesday was a statement from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which said that “Mr. Woods was extricated from the wreck with the ‘jaws of life,’ leading to more panic and speculation. Hours later we would find out that a pry bar and ax were used to remove the SUV’s windshield to pull Woods to safety, according to L.A. County Fire Department’s fire chief Daryl Osby.
This is the part where I remind you that last year the very same Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had deputies that were willingly sharing graphic pictures from Bryant’s helicopter crash.
“To Protect and Serve…”
By Tuesday night, Tiger Woods’ camp released a statement that gave an update on his injuries, his condition, and featured a quote from a medical professional. It was some of the most sound information we received all day.
There’s great value in being patient in order to get the facts right. Unfortunately, in the last 13 months, we’ve had two instances that have proven that in this industry evidence has been replaced by speculation, and accuracy has become an afterthought.