A well-known Dallas sportscaster who’s also known for his commentaries blasted media coverage of the death of NBA star Kobe Bryant.
When it came to covering the death of the legendary Kobe Bryant, the media blew it. That’s what a Dallas sports anchor says.
Dale Hansen made the remarks in a commentary posted to WFAA-TV’s site on Monday:
When we live in a world where the media is referred to as “the enemy of the people,” providing our critics with the ammunition they need hardly makes our industry better.
He listed several examples. He first targeted the easy target: TMZ. The celebrity gossip site broke the story about the fatal helicopter crash Sunday, scooping everyone else in the process.
Hansen was not the only one to criticize TMZ. In a public scolding, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva called it “just wholly inappropriate.”
Every news outlet I’ve worked for followed the same generally-accepted guideline: You don’t release the name of a victim until the coroner releases it. That’s because the coroner doesn’t release the names to the media until they’ve notified the family.
Villaneuva said it would be “extremely disrespectful” to learn from TMZ that your loved one had died. He’s absolutely right about that.
Hansen then criticized an ABC News reporter who said all four of Bryant’s daughters were believed to be aboard. Hansen said the reporter then said he hoped it wasn’t true.
“Why did he say it if he didn’t know?” Hansen said.
He lists other blunders the media committed on Sunday as it tried to cover the crash.
He calls it “this insatiable thirst to be first with a story.”
To a point, I agree completely with him.
But you also have to look at how the news spread.
I saw plenty of posts on Twitter and Facebook about the crash from non-news types. They were spreading false information just as eagerly. And they weren’t bothering to say where they got their sometimes-erroneous reports.
(But let a news outlet not attribute the source of information it reports and those same people go ballistic.)
We’ve heard for years that we live in the Information Age.
I think we live in the Information Overload Age.
When some potentially big story breaks, we want to know everything right that minute. That’s never possible, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting every detail. Right then and there.
Let someone here, for example, see a few cop cars somewhere and they immediately call or email a newsroom wanting to know what’s happening. Sometimes, they call the newsroom before the newsroom is even aware of the police presence they’re asking about. And telling the curious viewer that we don’t have any information yet is almost always met with frustration.
They want to know and they’re mad if they can’t get those answers. There’s some of that in all of us. I think we all know that.
There’s also the celebrity factor. When a helicopter believed to be owned by Kobe Bryant crashes, there’s no way that’s not going to be reported.
It shouldn’t be reported, of course, until things are confirmed.
But because of the name recognition and the following of a man like Bryant, there’s a good deal of pressure to find out what is and isn’t happening. There’s pressure to get to the heart of every detail that can be confirmed.
Reporters don’t — or at least shouldn’t — want to speculate. They should always want to know everything they’re reporting is confirmed and solid.
But when you’re talking about breaking news, a lot of it is going to be unconfirmed.
At least at first. As far back as the first real breaking news story on television, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, false information, in the form of unconfirmed reports, made their way to the air.
Some of those unconfirmed reports were right. CBS Radio reported priests said the president died before Kennedy’s deputy press secretary made the official announcement.
But early in the coverage, TV news reported a Secret Service agent had also been shot. (He hadn’t.)
But we want to know. Right now.
Sometimes, unfortunately, our insatiable need to know trumps the insatiable need to be first with the story. (And if we’re being honest, there’s some part of even non-news junkies who look for a bit of prestige in letting their friends know about something before anyone else does.)
Hansen says that outside the newsroom, “there’s not three people in America who know where they heard it first — or care.”
He says he’d rather be right than first.
So would I. Every single time.
The next time a major story like this happens and some source like TMZ reports that someone notable died, try something different. Turn off the TV. Step away from the computer. Put down the phone. Wait a few days…to give the coroner time to properly release the information.
Then tune in and find out what happened.
I know, I know. No one’s willing to do that these days. It’s too tempting to get the story. It’s too important to know when everyone else does.
And that’s why there will always be someone who’s not willing to give the story the time it needs to be properly told.
More’s the pity.