TMZ and the Perils of Taking Breaking News Too Far

In an age where people can receive information instantly, news outlets everywhere must compete to be the first to drop a “breaking” story. Social media has placed a large burden on media outlets. Nowadays, almost anyone can be a journalist; all it takes is a photo and a caption, and all of a sudden, everyone knows that a building in town is on fire. Technology has convinced all of us that everything can be done speedily, thinning our patience when things take longer than expected. As a result, it can be assumed that people appreciate the speed at which we can receive information now. However, when is “speedy” too fast or too soon? Sure, media outlets have the responsibility to get us the information we need as soon as they can, yet they should also have moral obligations when it comes to sharing information about a tragedy. Due to the rapidness of society today, however, people are less likely to follow those obligations more than ever. 

When a family experiences a severe tragedy, it is their right to be notified by the proper authorities and should be able to grieve privately. However, in the recent death of Kobe Bryant, that was not the case. On Jan. 26, Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant and seven others tragically passed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. I remember hearing the news TMZ had been the only news outlet to report it, so I didn’t think anything of it. However, about a half hour later, several news outlets had the story, ABC, NBC, CNN and more. I was confused. I did not understand why TMZ had their story out so much sooner than some of the largest media companies in the country. My confusion was waived away, however, when Los Angeles Sheriff Villaneuva released his statement. Apparently, TMZ had leaked the information before the Bryants could be notified of their beloved family members passing, and out of respect, other outlets withheld the information until the families of those who passed could be notified. In addition, some outlets have mentioned that the Bryants actually found out from the TMZ article and social media as opposed to hearing from the LAPD. 

This is extremely disturbing. Imagine if one of your loved ones had died and you found out from a notification on your phone as opposed to the police. Imagine what that does to you; you’d be left in a state of utter confusion, I’m sure, and you’d not know what to believe, hoping that it is just a silly rumor that the media outlet needed to spread to gain some attention. Then, you learn that it is true, and your life comes crumbling down around you. Yes, it is the media’s responsibility to report. However, it is the media’s responsibility to understand that every word they say impacts someone’s life, and that they should be respectful of that. All media outlets should wait to report until the family has been notified, instead of being greedy for making the big break first. 

There is an active petition on change.org for WarnerMedia and Fox Television Studios to “cancel” TMZ, due to its inappropriate methods of releasing information. While I’m not sure what the ramifications for TMZ’s actions should be, I am sure that there should be some. Trying to limit the press’ ability to report on certain things can be dicey considering how greatly the United States values freedom of the press. However, this behavior cannot continue. The media needs to be held to a higher ethical standard. Otherwise, people may continue to learn this extremely important information in such an unfortunate way. Hopefully, the backlash TMZ has received for their actions will teach it a lesson, but I don’t think so. This is not the first offense it has had, and I imagine it will not be its last. For now, all we can hope is that it will stop valuing being the first to break news over the privacy the people affected so greatly deserve.