People think being the first to comment on something means anything. Too many times I’ll see the comment “first!” toward the top of the comments section on a YouTube video or Instagram post.
It’s usually not even the first one you see, which drapes a layer of irony over the concept. It’s typically the fourth or fifth. If it’s not the first one I see then that comment is wrong, right? News organizations didn’t follow that logic when breaking the news about Kobe’s passing.
To start, TMZ published the breaking story before the Bryant family was even made aware. TMZ was the first outlet to report it, but what did it matter? They beat their competitors — hooray. But the families of the victims had to learn through a tabloid that their loved ones were killed. At the end of the day, what was the point of being first?
In the mad rush to get the story out, multiple sources reported the wrong information.
Some sources reported Kobe’s entire family was killed, some said there were only five people killed. Some reports even said that Kobe’s former teammate Rick Fox was killed in the crash, which was subsequently disproven. In the race to be first, the media placed people in an accident they weren’t a part of.
It’s not a new phenomenon, however. A New York Times article published in 2012 argued against the idea that Twitter reporting is bound to be inaccurate in initial reports. For some outlets, inaccuracy can be overlooked if it’s corrected. But getting the facts wrong isn’t acceptable. And the Times knew this back when breaking news via Twitter was still a new thing.
Now, just over seven years later, we still cling to a norm of mediocrity in Twitter reporting, with few outlets being the exception. The race to be first hasn’t changed — it’s gotten worse.