Our View: Know the source, get the facts
Journalists the world over know it’s not easy covering death.
It’s a balancing act between breaking the news and maintaining a level of humanity and decency our society demands. Certain deaths are newsworthy and must be reported, but we don’t tell that news story at the expense of our ethics.
Unfortunately, TMZ — an online media organization — did just that by reporting that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter accident before Bryant’s family was notified by authorities.
This is a foundational principle and one that requires careful thought, and discussion, if it’s to be overruled. Few things in journalism are etched in stone. Maybe there’s an example when that rule would be broken.
But this wasn’t it.
The Union found itself in a similar situation this year. We had confirmed that Gabriel Strickland was the man fatally shot Jan. 1 by local law enforcement before his name was public. We chose to withhold that information at the time, because we couldn’t confirm his family had been notified at that point.
TMZ didn’t do that. It wanted to break the news. That’s it. It was callous and unnecessary, and it shows us exactly what type of media organization it is.
There are too many TMZs these days, and there will only be more of them as the years pass. Every two-bit writer has a blog, or a podcast, or a YouTube channel where they talk as if they were preaching the Gospel.
You only have to look at the Blue Marble Jubilee debacle of last year to see that.
An innocuous online comment by former FBI director James Comey turned into a conspiracy that led jubilee organizers to cancel the annual event. One person, who seemingly believed the conspiracy, had a YouTube video explaining it.
It’s not the responsibility of people like that to impartially report the news. It’s the responsibility or the individual news consumer to vet the information they receive.
Too often people pass along bad information through social media. Like any media, it has the ability to do great, positive things. It also can lead to us to believe that Trader Joe’s is moving into the old north Auburn Kmart building (which, by the way, it isn’t).
So, if you want trustworthy news coming from a reliable and ethical source, what do you do?
Step 1: Do your research. We could fill this space with the names of media outlets you would despise, avoid or disbelieve. These typically are the sources we stumble upon without realizing it, and accept without question.
Know your news sources. Find ones you trust. Discover who’s behind the message relayed; what’s being used to grab your attention; and what values and points of view are included, or missing, from what you’re seeing.
You’ll be hard pressed to find news that’s completely without bias. This isn’t new. But what you can do is find the ones that limit that bias, and include news outlets that both share and oppose your personal views.
Good media outlets verify their stories before disseminating them. We all make mistakes, and we work to correct them when we do. But releasing Kobe Bryant’s name before his family is notified isn’t a mistake. It’s improper journalism.
And false information that Rick Fox, another former Laker, was on that helicopter isn’t just sloppy reporting. It misstates the truth, disparages all media and makes everyone’s job of learning the news that much more difficult.
Here’s what Fox said, as reported by today.com: “One of my daughter’s greatest fears is finding out that a parent or one of her parents would be lost through social media instead of from a loved one or a family member and she fortunately called me.”
Fox’s daughter is lucky. She called the source directly. The rest of us rely on news reports, which we trust to be accurate.
When they aren’t, it hurts everyone: the people involved, the media making the false report and the person consuming the news.
All media want to be first, but breaking news shouldn’t take a backseat to the facts. The mistakes aren’t worth it. Instead they should strive to be the first to be correct.
Because otherwise they’re just another dumb blog.
The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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