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Shame on you, TMZ; desire to be first meant more than desire to be ethical

By John Lawson II, managing editor
On February 14, 2020

NEW ORLEANS (February 14, 2020) – On Jan. 26, eight passengers, along with the pilot, were killed in a helicopter crash in California. Two of those passengers were NBA legend Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. Unfortunately, social media users and news outlets across the nation were more concerned with being first to break the news than being ethical.

In an age where new information is broadcast almost instantly, news outlets are feeling pressured to keep up with the fast pace of social media, causing some to lose sight of morals and ethics as a credible and reliable source. Celebrity news outlet TMZ’s action after Bryant’s death is a prime example.

TMZ was the first to report the news of the 41-year-old’s untimely death. Staff there were so focused on putting out an exclusive news story that they apparently didn’t care that the Bryant family had not yet been notified by authorities. Waiting for a family to receive official notice is standard operating procedure for mainstream journalists, if no more than out of sympathy for the family. Can you imagine first hearing that your loved one is dead on the news?

According to The Hill, law enforcement officials criticized TMZ for their unethical behavior. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva explained why the identities of the nine people were not initially released to the public and said, “It would be extremely disrespectful that your loved one...perished and you learn about it from TMZ...just wholly inappropriate.”

TMZ has a history of being the first news outlet to break the news of a high-profile celebrity’s untimely death, and perhaps the powers that be at the outlet think holding that record is more important than empathy and ethics. They were the first news outlet to break the news of Michael Jackson’s untimely death in 2009, along that of Whitney Houston in 2012 and Prince in 2016. The difference is the Jackson, Houston and Nelson families did not initially hear about it from the news source.

TMZ isn’t the only one to blame. Others rushed to Twitter with a plethora of false information, such as that former Los Angeles Laker Rick Fox was on the helicopter with Bryant and that all four of Bryant’s daughters were aboard the helicopter. Another false report was that the NBA was canceling all basketball games that day, which didn’t happen.

It is important that as users of social media, we commit to sharing only what we know to be true, especially in the wake of such tragedy.

Shame on you, TMZ. Shame.

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