Monday, January 27th, 2020
The news cycle the past 48 hours was dominated by the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and the still fairly anonymous “others.” Very sad that they died in that way (as sad as when anyone perishes in a flying machine that for whatever reasons, is being operated out of its safety zone.)
But how the event was reported is a sign of how the American press seems to struggle with calibration. Somehow the emotional component of the story (and certainly, there is one) overwhelms the story itself. In this age of internet-transmitted misinformation, the story of the crash has to somehow transcend the inaccurate reporting that seems to be flung automatically and simultaneously now when, well, when anything happens.
So the young reporters, raised in a more fragile age with a toolkit seemingly sorely lacking in nuance and quiet nouns and adjectives, pull out all the stops, declaring Bryant iconic (because they don’t seem to have any words for “really really really significant in modern American culture.” So he of course is iconic, and, because they like to turn “impact” into a clumsy adjective, his effect on the world was super impactful. They try to communicate profound impact, but they struggle, since the real impact has not really come into focus yet. This is a big story, yes. And it’s vying for pixels and airtime admidst impeachment and coronavirus and a national election and grammy awards and since reporters only have a limited toolbox, and they’re feeling emotional, they communicate those emotions, leaving the sparser facts (at this point) somewhat muffled in their wake.
And now, in day two, the system churns as it does, and we see tweets like “BBB Warns of Clickbait Scams After Kobe Bryant Tragedy.” “NBA: Petition to Change The NBA Logo.” “The Mossad Killed Kobe Bryant.” WHAT!?
This is how news and its toxic byproducts arrive now, screaming and overinflated and far far away from telling a real sober story of the deceased, among them the extremely famous dad, his daughter, a baseball coach, his wife and daughter, an assistant girls basketball coach, a mother and daughter…who came along for a tragic ride. Oh, and the pilot. They all were real people, with flaws and inspiring characteristics I’m sure, but we probably won’t get a calibrated look at all of that for quite a while while the noise settles down.
The San Antonio Spurs just tweeted “There are no words that can describe how everybody feels.” Well, yeah, exactly. So maybe we should just be quiet for a bit and let those emotions and feelings wash over people individually…and silently.
When the modern journalistic toolbox fails you, go back to first principles. What happened? To Who? When? Where? and when we know, Why?