It was 2:32 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 26, and the notorious TMZ story with the headline, that has since been taken down, in its aggressively bolded black font read “Breaking: Kobe Bryant Has Died In A Helicopter Crash.” In an instant the world had learned that one of the most notable athletes of the past two decades had died. And by terrible circumstance, it was also the exact moment that his own family would receive the same devastating news.
According to InStyle, on Thursday, Jan. 29, TMZ’s founder Harvey Levin admitted that he was in communication with Bryant’s representatives before publishing the story and that the families could have likely become aware of the incident from TMZ’s reporting or social media. Their report was let out to the public four hours before an official announcement was made.
There is no surprise that in an era of hyper information and communication, our words rapidly spread and often without bounds. With this advancement at hand and the speed at which we share information, journalists and figures within the news media must claim a new responsibility in how to ethically navigate their roles. The nature of the information they have access to is considerably fragile, especially when it involves a delicate matter like death.
TMZ’s despicable decision to report and publish the death of Kobe Bryant prior to the knowledge of the victims’ families was an act of selfishness, one that rejected these families the deserving right to this information first and foremost.
We are all witness to the increasingly difficult moral dilemmas behind news media in conjunction with the public’s persistent fascination with celebrity life. We are subsequently called to establish and advocate for an ethical boundary in the world of reporting. TMZ’s careless approach and dehumanizing coverage of celebrity subjects should push journalistic practitioners more than ever to learn how to decipher when it is appropriate to publish stories and when it is not.
As a prominent figure, Kobe Bryant’s life garnered significant outside attention by default. But deceitfully so, TMZ used his celebrity status as an excuse to prematurely release the news of his death, almost as if it was the public’s right to know. However, Bryant’s status as a celebrity did not exempt him from the fact that he was still a human. No matter his image as a larger-than-life figure, and the unprecedented achievements he made in his short 41 years of life, at the end of the day, Kobe Bryant was a human like you and me.
Journalists are given the profound privilege of collecting and sharing stories. How they choose to tell their stories is often how the world receives them. There should be repercussions for tabloids like TMZ who damage the reputation of a journalist’s role by telling stories without empathy and rejecting ethical journalistic practices altogether.
Kobe Bryant shared his life with the entire world. He gave the news media a front row seat to all of his greatest shows; five championships, two Olympic Games and even an Academy Award win. On countless occasions journalists were given the opportunity to pay witness to his triumphs and many of his joys. But when it came to the moment of his death last Sunday it was time for them to take a step back. The front row should have been reserved for his family, his wife, daughters, friends and teammates, but TMZ stole their seats.