In the wake of Kobe Bryant's death yesterday in California, the debate over media ethics in the age of social media has again resurfaced. Like with the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, TMZ was first to break the news of Bryant's death, less than an hour after his helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California. The news broke - and became the source of global intrigue and mourning - before coroners could confirm the identities of those people on the helicopter and speak to their families.
In the rush to be the first with the story, multiple media sources mistakenly reported that other members of Bryant's family had died in the crash.
ABC: Kobe Bryant and 4 children killed.
FOX: Kobe Bryant and 3 others killed.
TMZ: Kobe Bryant survived by wife and 4 daughters.
I hope some people lose their jobs today for rushing reports.
— Andrew Doughty (@Adoughty88) January 26, 2020
In a press conference in the early hours of the morning (Irish time), LA sheriff Alex Villanueva extended his sympathies to the families of those killed in the crash and urged the media to report incidents like this with added caution and sensitivity.
LA County Sheriff: "It would be extremely disrespectful to understand your loved one perished and you learned about it from TMZ. That is just wholly inappropriate." pic.twitter.com/4MpPOpJjBs
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) January 26, 2020
Tim Murakami of the LA Sheriff's department was also very critical of the media in a tweet.
I am saddened that I was gathering facts as a media outlet reported the Kobe had passed. I understand getting the scoop but please allow us time to make personal notifications to their loved ones. It’s very cold to hear of the loss via media Breaks my heart
— Undersheriff Tim Murakami (@LASDMurakami) January 26, 2020
It's worth noting that police weren't critiquing TMZ for the quality of their reporting. Unlike the traditional media companies reporting on the incident, TMZ's info on this incident was generally accurate. They were criticising the rush to get this news into the public sphere before police could do their work.
"If TMZ reports that a celebrity has died in Los Angeles County, it is almost always correct. For whatever reason, and you can read into this, their accuracy rate in Los Angeles is very, very good," Matthew Belloni of the Hollywood Reporter told CNN.