Media companies like TMZ and individual journalists must be held accountable for what they report. (Emma Frizzell)
Media companies like TMZ and individual journalists must be held accountable for what they report.

Emma Frizzell

Profiting off of pain

February 20, 2020

It still doesn’t feel real.

You fall asleep Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, as LeBron James passes Kobe Bryant on the NBA all-time scoring list, ascending to third place behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. As you wake up the next morning, this headline dominates your Twitter feed: “Kobe Bryant dies in helicopter crash.”

What?

No. Not Kobe. This was the guy on your lunchbox, your binder, who you attempted to channel on the blacktop at recess. To many kids of my generation, Kobe was more of a superhero than cape-donning comic book characters. Superheroes don’t die like this.

Unbelievably, Kobe died at 41 years old alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other victims. As fans around the world tried to process this harsh reality, media vultures moved swiftly to capitalize on tragedy once again. Consequently, if you were paying attention to the news surrounding Kobe’s death on Sunday, Jan. 26, it’s highly likely that you were fed false information.

Maybe it was ABC News Chief National Correspondent Matt Gutman reporting on live T.V. that Kobe was killed along with all four of his daughters. Gutman was later suspended from ABC News for his actions.

You might have been shocked to see “Rick Fox” trending on Twitter that Sunday. Internet hysteria surrounding the crash spurred rumors that Fox, a former NBA champion and teammate of Kobe, had also died in the crash. While untrue, Fox said these rumors scared loved ones as they desperately called him.

The greatest offender happened to be none other than the “journalistic” leech that is TMZ. The celebrity-gossip site was the first to break the story regarding Kobe’s death, and did so before the family was notified. Imagine finding out your loved one was killed this way.

This is not the first time that TMZ sacrificed ethics for clicks, though. The site, whose name stands for “Thirty Mile Zone” referring to an entertainment-heavy region of Los Angeles, extends its toxic reach far beyond that said area. They chip away at the privacy of public figures and their families. When rapper Tip “T.I.” Harris’ sister, Precious Harris Chapman, was killed in a car accident in Feb. 2019, TMZ posted a story about the Medical Examiner’s findings surrounding her cause of death. Though they apologized in a rare occurrence, Harris slammed the outlet for “profiting off of people’s pain.”

Digital media is a tough business. I get it. Hundreds of employees have been laid off at publications such as BuzzFeed due to an inability to grow their revenue. To supplement ad revenue, several publications such as The New York Times place articles behind a subscription paywall for as low as $2/week. To get the maximum profits and page views, news outlets must report breaking stories quickly and efficiently.

But that’s no excuse to destroy journalistic integrity by reporting falsehoods. With the vast extent of communication technology in this day and age, information is more available than ever before. In journalism, it is better to be accurate than to be first when reporting. When did this rule lose its value?

Media companies like TMZ and individual journalists must be held accountable for what they report. It is unacceptable to lie to the public then seek forgiveness later, especially when you’re dealing with people’s livelihood.

Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant is gone. Gigi Bryant is gone. Seven other victims are gone. Corporate greed is alive and well. I wish they could trade places.

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