Reporting on Kobe or Anyone Else's Death is not Easy and May Never Always Right....
So many questions--so few answers and lots of second guessing. It's the narrative surrounding the unfortunate death of Basketball Great Kobe Bryant and every single person onboard his helicopter this weekend and it's a narrative for nearly every single death that happens in all walks of life on a daily basis.
Hindsight really is 20/20 and to sit back and say things could have been done differently or handled differently is human nature. There's nothing wrong with it, it's one way of processing and in some cases coping with the horrible nature of a death of any sorts.
For Journalists---it's a dilemma you never really can resolve because every case is different and the circumstances in some way, shape or form is unique. Having been a journalist for going on 32-years and covering a variety of these cases, I can tell you it's not as easy to do as you'd think.
This past weekend, reporting was mixed at best when it came to reporting the death of Kobe Bryant. There was good and bad reporting when it came to confirming that it was indeed Bryant on the Sikorsky helicopter that went down near Calabasas, California.
I can tell you from 20-years of field experience, covering crashes is not easy. Most have no idea what it is like to try and document what is going on, confirm the details of who was involved and find out whom the event impacted. There are conflicting interests all over the place: Police and rescue personnel are trying to document what happened and in most cases once they are able to finish their jobs, will provide details to those on scene to report it.
Journalists are there talking to people who saw or heard or were impacted by the incident. People as a general rule--will often detail what happened from their perspective in ways that may--or may not jibe with what actually happened, not because they are being deceptive....more because everyone experiences and interprets and processes traumatic incidents in their own way.
Part of documenting an incident from a reporters perspective is taking that information and the official information and putting it together in a form that combines all of this. It is not anywhere near as easy as you think it is.
In Sunday's incident, I can only assume certain things based on experience about what happened, much of which has become a source of extreme hand wringing, back-seat quarterbacking and much debate within the journalism world. In the Journalism business, every decision is looked at closely and in cases like this---they should be.
First and foremost, like most incidents involving celebrities, TMZ was involved. Without getting too "Inside Baseball", TMZ occupies a very grey area of journalism. By definition, it's technically what they do, but paying for content and sources and not adhering to the same ethical responsibilities---they are a bit of an outlier.
TMZ was the first to report Kobe Bryant was on the helicopter that crashed Sunday morning. Quite a few News Outlets will report TMZ information. TMZ information has not always been correct. The way around it for most is---attributing it to them: "TMZ reports Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash"...It's not responsible reporting, in its truest form, it's the part I hate about what Journalism has sometimes become--a race to get it on the record first.
By late Sunday afternoon, most outlets had reported TMZ's reporting, many had confirmed it themselves before talking "On the Record" to any official.....
Yes, TMZ was correct---the implication from the Sheriff here is they reported it before he, or someone in an official capacity could inform his family. And that is the primary source of the "Hand Wringing"....
One of the tenants we try to adhere to in Local News is to not be the source of information where a family learns about the death of a loved one. It's a delicate balance, but in most cases, there's not a "Rush to Report" when it comes to the death of a "Non-Celebrity.
Unfortunately this case focused on a Celebrity and as with most reporting on Celebrities, there was a rush to get it out there. TMZ and other outlets who specialize in that type of reporting often have sources traditional news organizations don't and can get information faster. But they also don't adhere to the same "Ethical Boundaries". It kills me to see how Celebrity lives are so breathlessly reported on no matter how normal or minute the details are about their lives. It's a horrible fishbowl to live in and no, it does NOT excuse a TMZ for rushing to get their information out there the way they did.
It got worse--much, much worse as ABC's "National Correspondant Matt Gutman, based in Los Angeles went on air and reported all four of Bryant's children were on the helicopter according to his "Sources"....it was not correct. Not even close.
Listen, in the world we currently occupy, mistakes by Journalists aren't just noted, apologies and corrections are no longer enough. Once you go "On Record" with something, write or report it, there's no taking it back. Heck, even if you have the information right and mis-speak, the words come out wrong, you can't take it back. On-air flubs by TV people now live on forever.
Because we are in such a polarized world where politicians have demonized reporters for saying things about them they don't like even if true---there are people who will jump at the opportunity to lambaste "The Media" as being a corrupt, false mass group of people looking to mislead you, which is utterly and completely un-true yet totally and completely believed by people not willing to think on their own.
Yes, I'm defending my business knowing full well the business of Journalism, like ANY other business is not without fault. It's the "LUMPING" together of ALL reporting outlets as "The Media" which really gets under my skin.
I work in LOCAL TV NEWS not National Network News. No, we are NOT the same as Cable News either. What a "Expert" a.k.a Talking Head on CNN, Fox or MSNBC says they think about something does not in any way shape or form mean LOCAL NEWS should be lumped in with them. Same for newspapers. Those Cable News "Experts" are paid opinion makers who in no way, shape or form are objectively reporting, they are spouting their opinion on a subject they may or may not have a vested interest in protecting. Those "Experts" or the "Opinion" shows on Cable News have killed any real legitimacy those organizations should be allowed to have in MY opinion.
Most people, thanks in large part to crooked politicians who have come to the realization they can incite their followers by blaming anything they don't like or agree with as "Fake News", believe journalists are one interconnected thing.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Yes, the National Networks run stories that happen locally as do Cable Outlets. Yes, local stories are often picked up by the New York Times or Washington Post. Those papers do not speak for all newspapers.
Most people truly have no idea how journalism works which makes me sad. I wish it was different, I wish they all could spend a day or two seeing how we work. It would be eye-opening for most of them. Saying "The Media" when speaking of a CNN or Fox News report is like saying "Politicians Lie". There are thousands upon thousands of journalists much like there are thousands upon thousands of politicians. Speaking about one does not speak about them all.
Listen, I am not saying Journalists are right 100% of the time and should not be questioned---far from it. We should be questioned, pushed to prove we are correct because I truly believe in most (but not all cases) we are. The only way to make one strive for perfection--is to push one to pursue it.
Journalism in the 2020's is not the same business it was for people of my generation when they were kids. There are very few things in life that are. The business has been gutted by ruthless investors looking to squeeze profits at the expense of workers. Most outlets are understaffed and don't have the resources they once had. They'll never get those resources again. It's a business with some people who have agendas, all businesses do and many who are not as qualified as they should be to do what they are doing. It's the way most "Legacy" businesses are these days.
By no means is ANY of this an excuse for getting things incorrect, getting facts wrong. The goal in any situation is to be 100% right, 100% of the time. It's the goal of anyone in any business at any given time.
In the world of Social Media and instant gratification--mistakes are going to be made, there is no such thing as a "Perfect" person. There is not a single, solitary person alive who can say they've performed their job correctly 100% of the time in the most effective way possible. If you are that person, I applaud you---though I don't believe you.
Journalists should and expect to be held to a high standard, we should not EVER be reporting information unless someone has confirmed it. Yes, there will be times when that is multiple trusted sources who have been correct before. Yes, there will be times where it is information gathered from observation. And yes, there will be times where it is not going to be 100% correct in a situation where those providing the facts are not able to provide all the information in a timely manner.
Things change, stories sometimes take turns in strange directions. Facts sometimes develop along the way which did not exist at the beginning of an investigation.
All I ask is for people to understand journalists don't exist to mislead or mis-inform you. Yes, there are some who now masquerade as Journalists and tell you their truth is what you should believe even if they don't adhere to established facts and some who will just leave out details.
It's a difficult ask for me to say "Only believe what we tell you" because in some cases you can't. All I really am asking is that you understand that most want to be correct, most want to document what really is happening in a fast an efficient manner in part because I know some will no longer believe me.
And while it makes me sad to know this, I hope those of you who believe that and know me, know that my goal, my life, my career has been dedicated to report on things happening in my community in the most effective, most timely and correct manner possible. I do this because I care about people, I care about telling stories and I care about documenting events in the most effective, balanced and informative matter possible. I can't change how you interpret it nor do I want to, I just want you to respect what I do as much as I respect what you do....
Thanks for reading and listening to my rant---I've wanted to get some of this off my chest for awhile, writing my thoughts down like this is usually the most effective way I've been able to find to do it.
*ED NOTE: This is totally and complete MY OPINION as is everything else I write on this blog page. I don't pretend that I'm right and you are wrong, I'm just sharing my thoughts and opinions for anyone who might be interested in what I have to say. I'm not asking you to agree with me and totally respect the fact you might have a different opinion. But if you've read this far---thanks for hearing me out, really that's all I can ever ask*