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Volume 27 No. 5
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Kobe Bryant's Death Dominates TV News, Social Media Coverage

News outlets, both sports-related and not, dedicated hours of Sunday coverage to Bryant's death
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
News outlets, both sports-related and not, dedicated hours of Sunday coverage to Bryant's death
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
News outlets, both sports-related and not, dedicated hours of Sunday coverage to Bryant's death
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

Kobe Bryant's death "dominated coverage as soon as word surfaced via TMZ" at 2:24pm ET yesterday, according to Cynthia Littleton of VARIETY. The news broke as ESPN was "in the midst" of its Pro Bowl telecast. The net "broke into coverage for the somber bulletin" around 3:00pm but then "returned to the game." ESPN2 "scrapped its regular schedule to present news about the crash and tributes" to Bryant. CNN and other news outlets also "focused on piecing together the details of the helicopter crash in the foggy hills over Calabasas, Calif." In L.A., it "took some time" for local TV stations to break into regularly scheduled programming, but eventually KCBS, KNBC, KABC, KTLA, KCAL and KTTV "all went to live, commercial-free" coverage. CNN put the Trump impeachment trial and China's coronavirus outbreak "on pause for wall-to-wall Bryant coverage in the hours after his death" (VARIETY.com, 1/26). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Jay Rigdon noted CBS' Adam Zucker "waited until after the conclusion" of the Maryland-Indiana basketball game to break the news from the studio desk. CBS' Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo "opened Sunday coverage at Torrey Pines with some reflection as well." NBC "interrupted their own figure skating coverage for a special report" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 1/26). 

TOUGH SITUATION FOR ESPN: POYNTER.com's Tom Jones writes it is on a day like yesterday when ESPN "proves again that it's far more than a sports network that only covers games." It showed it is a net "full of elite journalists and analysts who can take astounding breaking news and quickly provide comprehensive coverage that stands above all others." Jones: "But ESPN didn't just cover the story, it did so expertly." ESPN2's coverage was "superb." It brought in its "array of on-air talent" such as Michael Wilbon, Stephen A. Smith, Jay Williams, Rachel Nichols and NBA reporters Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne. Meanwhile, the net "mixed in the actual accident news with reports from the scene and the possible causes." It also ran "old interviews and highlights" of Bryant (POYNTER.com, 1/27). SI.com's Jimmy Traina writes ESPN was in a "near-impossible" situation yesterday. The net was airing the Pro Bowl "when news of Bryant's death broke." Instead of moving the Pro Bowl to ESPN2 and going with full Bryant coverage on ESPN, the net "kept the Pro Bowl on ESPN" and aired Bryant coverage on ESPN2. Traina: "This was a big mistake, in my opinion." ESPN is "most likely contractually obligated to carry the Pro Bowl on ESPN, but in this case, the contract should've been broken to accommodate as big a sports story as you'll ever have." ESPN2's Zubin Mehenti and Michael Eaves did a "phenomenal job in stressful and heartbreaking circumstances" (SI.com, 1/27).

NBA TV BUMPS GAMES: In Utah, Sarah Todd notes NBA TV originally was scheduled to air several games yesterday, but it "instead dedicated the entirety of the day to updating developments surrounding Bryant's passing, providing continuing coverage." The net allowed "multiple teammates and those close to Bryant to share their condolences on the air" (DESERET NEWS, 1/27).

NETWORK MORNING SHOWS: NBC's "Today" opened this morning with news of Bryant's crash for the first 15 minutes. A mural of tributes was shown, before playing audio of Boyz II Men and Alicia Keys' Grammy performance honoring Bryant. NBC's Craig Melvin reported live from Staples Center, with fan memorials sitting behind him, and NBC Sports' Mike Tirico joined the program. Bryant's death led "CBS This Morning," with hosts Gayle King, Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil sharing their thoughts before highlighting tributes from fans, artists at the Grammys, President Obama and President Trump. CBS' Jonathan Vigliotti reported live from Calabasas. The crash also took up the first 17 minutes of ABC's "GMA," with the net's T.J. Holmes reporting live from Calabasas and Chris Connelly reporting live from Staples Center. Former NBAer Derek Fisher and Basketball HOFer Scottie Pippen joined the program (THE DAILY).

BEING FIRST ISN'T ALWAYS BEST: In DC, Margaret Sullivan writes what rules the media world in '20 is the "drive to be first, at any cost, and the rush to get something -- anything, it sometimes seems -- on an outlet's site." Sullivan: "In any major breaking news event ... you can assume that some of the early coverage will be wrong." The Bryant story was an "especially bad example of that truism." Sullivan notes the L.A. Times had an "early, measured approach to this hometown tragedy." A tweet at 2:36pm ET: "We are aware of reports about Kobe Bryant and are currently investigating. We will update here as soon as we can confirm anything" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/27). In Phoenix, Bill Goodykoontz writes there is an "old saying that, in the world of instantaneous updates, bears repeating: It's better to be right than first." Goodykoontz writes that is something ABC's Matt Gutman "would do well to remember." During Gutman's report on the crash, he said, "Four of [Bryant's] children are believed to be on that helicopter with him." Fox News' Arthel Neville said, "There are many stories circulating right now and we want to be very careful about what we're reporting ... We are not racing to get the facts to you to be the first one on record. We want to get it right" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/27). SI.com's Traina writes the way news of yesterday's helicopter crash was reported was "particularly frustrating." One outlet reported that "all of Kobe's children were on the helicopter." Other outlets reported that "former Laker Rick Fox was on the helicopter." Traina: "The race to be first on a story, the race to send out a piece of information that nobody else has reported, has become so intense that there seems to be no turning back now, and that's downright scary" (SI.com, 1/27).

TMZ CROSSES THE LINE? CNN's Oliver Darcy wrote after TMZ broke the news of Bryant's death, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva at a press conference "took a swipe at the website." Villanueva said, "It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one ... perished and you learn about it from TMZ. That is just wholly inappropriate." L.A. County Undersheriff Tim Murakami also jabbed at TMZ in a tweet, saying, "I am saddened that I was gathering facts as a media outlet reported Kobe had passed." Murakami: "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" (RELIABLE SOURCES, 1/26). In DC, Sullivan notes Murakami's public criticism of TMZ was "appropriate, but you can be sure it will make no difference for next time." Sullivan: "It's what they do" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/27).

HUMAN ERROR: The BBC apologized after "mistakenly using footage" of LeBron James in its coverage of the death of Bryant. The net was "heavily criticised for the error" on social media. BBC News at Six and Ten Editor Paul Royall apologized for the mistake and blamed "human error" (THEGUARDIAN.com, 1/26).