It was a little after 4pm CST on Thursday, June 25. I was editing a manuscript and decided to take a break and check out my friends on Facebook. As I scanned the news feed, I read this post “my goodness, what a day. Now, it’s Michael Jackson….prayers for sure!” The post was a bit confusing. Of course, I knew about the death of actress Farrah Fawcett. She was an “angel” in American history. I reminisced about playing Sabrina (Kate Jackson’s character). And the passing of Ed McMahon was fresh too. So the FB post was unsettling. Shortly thereafter, I sent a friend who was at the MJ rehearsal site in LA a text to find out what was going on. At that point, “he” didn’t have any information. He asked me to keep him posted via text. Then, I went back to FB and found the link to TMZ.
As a journalist, I looked for the source for the story. Initially, TMZ did NOT attribute the story. They mentioned “a source” WITHOUT naming someone. However, I knew that TMZ would NOT have posted the story without confirmation. It was just too big. The website is run by journalists who worked for mainstream media and is owned by Time Warner. They had too much at stake to risk any credibility. Traditional media question TMZ until TMZ is useful to the traditional media. Ironically, it is becoming more and more common for mainstream media to interview TMZ staff on big entertainment stories.
As for the speed of information dissemination, with Twitter, Facebook, text, email and let us not forget the cell phone, news organizations have nano seconds to confirm stories. I was watching CNN for further confirmation. I was hoping that TMZ was wrong but I knew that they weren’t, they couldn’t be, it would have been website suicide. Soon after, TMZ’s report, CNN put this on the screen: LA Times reports Michael Jackson Dies. That still meant that they had NOT confirmed the story. CNN did not confirm the story until 6:25pm CST.
The credibility of online news sources has been catapulted into the spotlight once again and this time TMZ is standing on solid ground. However, one wonders how long it will take for the masses to genuinely trust sites other than CNN, FOX, MSNBC, ABC, NBC and CBS. This is the digital age. Information is going to be sent whether the audience or the mainstream media are ready or not. It’s a new day. In addition to the media, private citizens, were using every resource they had to confirm the story. The mainstream media must lose the notion of competition because now they are competing, potentially against millions of people. The role of the mainstream media needs to be putting stories into context, organizing and indexing them.
Focusing on “breaking” news is an effort in futility. Claiming that stories are exclusive is also counterproductive unless you can scour the millions of websites and confirm that the story is indeed only yours. And when does breaking news stop, when one news agency breaks the story. And does that agency have to be one of the “big” ones. Why expend your energy and resources to be first. Focus on being the best, the most thorough, the most educational and the most engaging.
This is a moment in World history for many, many reasons. Michael Jackson was my generations, big brother. Yes, he was quirky, questionable and quacky. We accepted him for who he was. We wore the one glove. I had a jheri curl with one strand on my forehead. We did the moonwalk and rocked with Michael all the way.
He was raised during a time when his race was not appreciated. He was compared to Donny Osmond and told repeatedly by his father (as portrayed in The Jacksons: An American Dream) that he had to be better than him. Michael was surrounded by a culture that did not initially embrace him. Think about it, it was 1983 when MTV finally added Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean video to the on air rotation. As one who has studied Black Identity Development, I wrote an article years ago and sent it to an editor of a popular magazine (it was not published, if I can find it, I’ll post it) talking about how when a person is forced to accept an identity that he/she did not choose, they can experience an identity crisis. If you can’t be who you want to be, be accepted (Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, sense of belonging) and be secure in yourself, you cannot be sound mentally. There’s so much more to be said and explored but I’ll leave that for another day.
For now, rest in peace, Michael, your music was and is phenomenal. Your songs are my life’s timelilne. I was a teenager when the album Off the Wall was released. This is so surreal and so sad. I just don’t remember so many losses as a child. With all of the media, everything is so public and in a strange way so much more personal. It doesn’t directly affect my day to day activities. I’m perfectly fine yet somehow affected by this existential change. In such a short time, Bernie Mac, James Brown, Gerald Levert, Isaac Hayes.…gone. Like Jill Scott, I’m Livin’ My Life like its Golden.