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The consequences of speed-driven journalism

At around 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 26, the TMZ alert lit up on my phone: “BREAKING: Kobe Bryant Has Died In A Helicopter Crash.” I immediately rushed to Twitter to confirm my worst fear. Some tweets confirmed this claim, while others denied it. Several reporters tweeted that Bryant’s entire family was onboard the helicopter while others claimed that Rick Fox, who played for the Lakers from 1997 to 2004, was onboard. Uncertainty tinged every tweet, with nothing confirmed or denied until several hours later. The influx of unclear and unconfirmed tweets combined to create a hailstorm of confusion for all searching for valid information. This is what ensues when reporters value speed over accuracy.

These seemingly baseless claims were presented rapidly, with reporters trying to guess the facts. With no immediate response from law enforcement, other news sources continued to circulate information put out by TMZ. Hours later, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) confirmed that nine people were killed in the crash during a press conference.The police also criticized TMZ for reporting the identity of the victims to the public before the LAPD was able to notify family members. While Harvey Levin, the founder of TMZ, has denied these claims, it paints a terrifying scenario: on a day that started like any other, you send your family off to continue with a normal weekend routine, only to find out several hours later on the television that they have died.

TMZ is not the only news organization at fault here. ABC anchor Matt Gutman inaccurately reported on-air that all four of Bryant’s children were on board the helicopter. He later apologized and corrected his information to include that Bryant’s 13 year-old daughter Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, was also killed in the crash.  Gutman was suspended by ABC later in the day for the inaccuracies in his reporting, a fitting consequence for the careless statement he made without any factual basis. Rather than wait for confirmation of these facts, Gutman made the decision to announce it to a live audience, spreading information he did not know to be completely true. Gutman displayed extremely poor judgment, as he announces possibly deaths without knowing them to be facts. This hasty, distasteful reporting poorly reflects on the entirety of the media. If we lose the trust of the public, then who can we trust?

The British Broadcasting Channel (BBC) broadcasted video clips primarily of LeBron James while discussing the news of Bryant’s death. This misinformation drew criticism for the lack of care put into its coverage of such a sensitive topic. The error is yet another story of releasing information without checking its accuracy. All the clips that were aired were of basketball games, so all the reporters needed to do was check the name and number on the back of the jersey. Instead, they opted to put out a montage of videos that misrepresented the subject of their reports. This outraged viewers and rightfully so.

Claims that Fox was also onboard the helicopter is another inaccuracy that was speculated on. On TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” Kobe Bryant tribute episode, Fox discussed how the false reports affected his family and close friends. Kenny Smith, who spent 10 years in the NBA and has spent the last 22 years as an analyst for “Inside the NBA,” cried as he described his emotions when he thought Fox was on the helicopter. Smith boldy exclaimed, “The race to be first, to tell the story, you don’t know what it does to people.” Fox’s one-word response holistically defines the situation: “Irresponsible.” Its explanation offers a glimpse into what it is like to be on the opposite side of false news reports.

There are some cases in which reporting with speed has benefits. When AMBER Alerts are sent out, the quicker the public receives them, the faster the abducted child can be found. But in the case of AMBER Alerts, information is confirmed to be accurate. If any updates occur, a second AMBER Alert is sent out to inform the public of these changes. A fault in the reporting of Bryant’s death was that once false reports were sent out, any attempt to correct this information was buried by a sea of news outlets repeating the misinformation. Bryant’s fame further attributed to the deluge of information. It is unlikely that all information regarding the helicopter crash would be accurate, but the carelessness shown by the media goes against what journalists stand for.

Reporting with accuracy is the basis of journalism. Not only does false news cause sources to lose credibility, but it also creates mass panic and frustration among those who have been misinformed. With digital journalism and the rise in social media, news has become substantially easier to transmit and receive. The importance of publishing stories first to get the edge on competitors has long been stressed. But, in the case of such a gravely sensitive issue, facts should be checked and double checked. Waiting and presenting facts will always be preferred over acting first and delivering misinformation. The public deserves to be reported facts and what happened was inexcusable. Rather than putting the feelings of the public first, news outlets reported with their own best interests and made careless and avoidable errors.


By Bhalpriya Sandhu, Scene editor

Editorial cartoon by Daniela Marquez