The tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, along with several others in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA, made Sunday a sad day for all of us.
It also offered a reminder of the problem of reporting or spreading news too quickly, before the facts are in, regardless of whether it’s right or not.
For me it started with a text message from a friend.
“You see Kobe? Died in a helicopter crash. Wow.”
I flipped on the radio to find the UConn game had just concluded in Hartford and the station had not yet begun its coverage of what would be an all-consuming story the rest of the day. But just a few minutes later, after a sudden interruption during a commercial break, the tragic news was confirmed—Kobe Bryant, only 41, had died in a helicopter crash in California.
That’s all I knew at that point. It hit hard and I was stunned.
Soon after that I reached my destination, a local pizza bar, where I was able to silently watch the news during that first hour trickle in on TV and flood in on social media. All sorts of rumors about the crash—tweets, posts and text messages came coursing through my phone.
The conflicting information unfortunately reminded me of another sad time—Sandy Hook. I always use that awful day as a reminder not to take any rumors as fact, as there are those out there trying to be the first to report something or non-journalists acting like they know something.
On Sunday, the first half-hour started with rumors that former-Laker Rick Fox was also on the helicopter. “Oh man,” I thought.
The second half-hour started with rumors that all of Kobe’s children were on the flight.
“Oh God no,” I, along with many others, prayed.
Moments later, it was said to be two of his kids.
The world later found out that one of his children was on board, as well as other parents and teammates. Nine people in all. They were on their way to a travel basketball game. It was heartbreaking news to hear.
Late Sunday, during a press conference with the LA County Fire Chief and Sheriff, it was implied that the families of Bryant and the other passengers learned about the fate of their loved ones from TMZ, before they could be formally and appropriately notified. I can only imagine the false rumors they came across in panicked text messages and calls they received, as they began to deal with the worst day of their lives. I hope they were able to turn their phones off.
We live in a world where we watch everything play out in real time. In some cases, like sporting events, that’s a gift. In others, like when we all watched together as Notre Dame Cathedral burned in Paris or whenever news of another mass shooting hits the airwaves, we pause to look, listen and try to learn more.
When things like this happen, the rush to get the news first often seems to supersede the need to get it right. And this doesn’t apply only to legacy media outlets, but to anyone in the digital realm who offers, repeats or shares news that has not yet been confirmed.
It’s true, numerous reporting errors were made in the past, long before the real-time digital age, in that same rush to be first. But it almost seems to be encouraged today—in a get it out there, correct it later sense—and that doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s during developing, tragic instances like these that we need to be mindful of spreading information that we know nothing about.
False information is always going to be out there, but when it comes to breaking news—particularly tragic cases—pause, hope or pray for the best—then wait for the facts.