The media mishandled coverage of Kobe Bryant death

National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy (left) and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speak Jan. 27 during a media briefing after a helicopter crash with nine causualties, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, in Calabasas, Calif.

For the rest of my life I’ll remember what I was doing, where I was and what I was thinking Jan. 26, 2020, as I’m sure the same can be said for millions upon millions of people around the world.

Forever burned into my brain are the words “TMZ,” and “BREAKING: Kobe Bryant Has Died In A Helicopter Crash.”

As soon as I read the article I began to search frantically for another news source that could verify TMZ’s initial report, as I didn’t really trust, nor did I really believe, Kobe could be dead.

Every single article I saw within the first 10 minutes of the initial news report all pointed back to one source — TMZ.

I looked at the TMZ article again, and it mentioned that four others were killed in the crash. My heart sank, as I figured Kobe’s wife and four daughters could have been victims in the accident as well.

At first it was reported that Kobe’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, and their daughters were not on the helicopter, but not long after, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant was reported among the dead. That was a gut punch.

Beyond the tragic loss of Kobe, Gigi and the other three victims, what will never sit right with me is the way the news of their deaths were reported, and the fact that there were actually nine people in total aboard the helicopter when it went down, which wasn’t reported until much later that night.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva scolded TMZ for publishing the story before the next of kin had been notified, according to Inquisitor.

“It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one has perished and you learn about it from TMZ,” Villanueva said in a statement. “That is just wholly inappropriate, so we’re not going to be going there.”

The media was in such a frantic rush to get clicks and drive traffic to its pages that key information that wasn’t available at the time was not even thought about. The life of a great man and his daughter essentially became nothing more than a quick story to further one’s career. Accuracy was forgotten. Courtesy to the victims and their loved ones became an afterthought.

Vanessa likely found out her husband and daughter were dead through TMZ, or from somebody she knew who saw the article online or on TV. That’s not how situations like this should be reported on. There is supposed to be an orderly process when it comes to death. The next of kin should be notified before the rest of the world.

When it was reported incorrectly that five people had died in the crash, it must’ve given the loved ones of the victims false hope that their relatives were still alive. For hours they must have waited, hoping to get a call or a text saying “I’m OK.”

To make matters worse, former Los Angeles Laker and teammate of Kobe, Rick Fox, was reported among the dead in the crash. Fox wasn’t with Kobe that day. There was no reason for him to be on that helicopter, nor was there any reason for the media to place him there. Despite all logic, his name was thrown in irresponsibly.

Fox proceeded to get calls and texts from friends, family and former teammates who all were thinking the worst. The trauma inflicted on those people wasn’t necessary, and Fox had to deal with the fallout from that, along with the passing of one of his close friends.

Journalists are taught in school how to handle situations like these. Those lessons should continue once out in the real world.

Journalists are taught to make sure every fact and detail we come across is confirmed. Words can be more powerful than the sword, and that is something the media should keep in mind.

Journalists should be ethical about how they handle reporting sensitive news. Ethics were clearly not considered when the story broke. The Bryant, Altobelli, Chester, Mauser, Zobayan and Fox families deserved better.

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