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When Shock Value Goes To Far; How The Media Thrives Off Celebrity Tragedy

This past Sunday, the world lost one of the greatest basketball legends to ever step on the court, Kobe Bryant. Him, his 13-year-old daughter Gigi, and seven other individuals were on their way to a travel basketball game in Thousand Oaks, California via helicopter when it tragically crashed, killing everyone on board. 

At 2:24 p.m. on Sunday January 26th, the world stopped, as TMZ posted the story covering Bryant’s devastating death, merely one hour after police got the initial report of a downed aircraft. Twitter and social media platforms alike surged with millions of individuals trying to get some further confirmation beyond that of just a celebrity gossip website. Eventually, it was obviously confirmed that both Bryant, his daughter, and seven other innocent lives were taken in the crash, but people were quick to turn on the original outlet, who reportedly released the news before the family had even been informed. 

Los Angeles County Sheriff, and Undersheriff, both have since made public statements regarding TMZ and their inappropriate method of delivering “news” without any regard or consideration of those who would be affected by such shocking information.  

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“It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one … perished and you learn about it from TMZ. That is just wholly inappropriate,” said Sheriff Alex Villanueva during a press conference

“I am saddened that I was gathering facts as a media outlet reported … 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,” Los Angeles County Undersheriff Tim Murakami tweeted

What’s especially raising the eyebrows of those against the outlet is the fact that this is not the first time in which TMZ was the first to report on high-profile celebrity-death tragedies. In 2009, they were the first to report on Michael Jackson’s overdose, in 2012 they were the first to report that Whitney Houston died in a bathtub, in 2016 they tweeted out regarding Prince’s death, and recently, in 2018, they were first to report Mac Miller’s overdose. 

Like any other major news network, the individuals who work on the inside have all sorts of connections to people in the industry. TMZ has that, and also connections within Hollywood, considering they’re a celebrity gossip media outlet over anything. Additionally, TMZ has been around since 2005 and was one of the first major online celebrity news sites, so they hold a lot of notoriety, especially in regard to celebrity death. 

According to a 2016 profile of Harvey Levins, the founder of TMZ, the network has a huge network of “tipsters” that they’ve built strong relationships with throughout the past decade. This network includes high-profile celebrity lawyers, court officials, Hollywood service workers, and more. Basically they have a ton of connections to individuals who work very closely with the celebrities they report on. The profile also states that TMZ more often than not will compensate the individuals who deliver tips to them; a practice that most credible news outlets don’t do. 

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While TMZ has definitely built up a solid enough foundation to be considered a “credible news source,” the ethics of it all make them one of the least liked media outlets to date. It’s a fairly new debate, regarding news on celebrities who, at the end of the day, are just regular people with talent that we all can admire. But in an age of influencers and young LA adults making a name for themselves through sponsored posts and fancy trips, it’s hard to care about anything regarding “celebrities.” 

One thing we all can agree on, when it comes to tragedy or death, we must respect the sanctity of privacy and family. LA Police and individuals on social media, are fairly adamant about the disgust they feel towards TMZ and other news sources that thrive off shock value stories with no regard to those involved. In an age of social media and constant celebrity engagement it’s hard to tell, however, if there’s room to ice out those types of outlets to make room for more legitimate and respectful forms of journalism. 

When a tragedy as monumental and culturally impactful as Kobe Bryant’s unexpected death occurs, journalists are quick to throw away any morality they once had in order to get the scoop. The reality is, the public will get all the details one way or the other via confirmation from real officials (such as police or firefighters) but because of how fast information is spread on the internet, the public gets just as greedy as those working in the media. So we can sit and scold TMZ all day long, but we also need to accept our role in actively participating in a culture that exploits tragedy for clicks.

We desire all the information right as it’s being learned, so we demand updates, but hate the invasive means others had to go through to get them. In order to truly move forward as a society, we need to understand that these are people who are put on a massive pedestal, who’s value we equate to how successful they are. Once we collectively agree that we need to focus more on these individuals talents that made them famous in the first place, as opposed to everything happening in their personal lives, we can begin to progress.