Trust 2.0 – reports of MJ’s death are not greatly exaggerated

It was fascinating to watch the Michael Jackson rumours hit Twitter late last night (BST) and the mixed reaction to the initial report. An AOL/Telepictures Productions entertainment news site and renowned for having its finger on the pulse, but not quite big or well-known enough to risk the re-tweet or the MSM endorsement? Should we trust it, should we not? The links and telling tweets are reproduced here: breaks news of the death first:

“We’ve just learned Michael Jackson has died. He was 50.”


Many journalists were playing it safe, even with their own personal tweets. Even the ‘semi-journalists’:

Then… a few comments about the weird news culture we live in. Compare the way you heard about Princess Diana to this, for example. This from Meg Pickard, the Guardian’s head of social media development:

But were people being unduly cautious? Ashley Norris – of Shiny Media fame – offered this:

The Sun (by an unnamed ‘online reporter but it has now been updated and by-lined) and the Metro (by a by-lined reporter but the link is now dead) – and others too no doubt – tentatively go with ‘reportedly dead.’ And actually attributed TMZ. Then, phew, a mainstream media source finally gives us likely sources to cling onto. The LA Times.


Around 23.35 BST (22.35 GMT):The BBC goes for it on TV. In its special breaking television news report on BBC1 after BBC Question Time, and before This Week, they say that Jackson is reported to be dead: citing the LA Times as the main source, then, and then add that the Associated Press is also reporting the death.

Now everyone’s sure that he is dead. The Guardian gets this wonderfully comprehensive tribute article up very quickly (23.26 BST).

TMZ were the winners of the night with publicity all round. Check out the quote from Alan Citron, founding manager for TMZ but who now works for Buzz Media in an email to Beet TV last night:

“TMZ has drifted into a lot of juvenile satire lately, but Harvey’s [Levin, managing editor of TMZ] still the best when it comes to serious celebrity news reporting. It’s highly likely that TMZ will own this story.”

This lovely tweet from @PJButta says it all:

More views on TMZ and trust on Twitter.

As for the print? According to Paul McNally,

One more link-to-print here: the Guardian’s newspaper front page slideshow (presumably a later edition for the Sun).

What have we left out? Leave links and comments below, if you’ve got anything to add.

10 thoughts on “Trust 2.0 – reports of MJ’s death are not greatly exaggerated

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  2. Ian Betteridge

    I’m not sure what the point you’re making is, to be honest. A professional media site that’s ultimately-owned by Time Warner got a scoop?

    And I’m not sure about the “TMZ rarely gets it wrong” from Ashley, either. I don’t read it, but everyone I know who reads it regularly was urging caution. Certainly, no one on FriendFeed or Twitter that I could see was saying they were a particularly trustworthy source.

    What’s more interesting is how the Jeff Goldblum rumours didn’t get much traction – working out why that didn’t happen will tell you a lot more about the nature of trust.

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  5. Judith Townend Post author

    @IanBetteridge – so as a Time-Warner owned ‘professional media site’ why aren’t they considered a ‘particularly trustworthy source’ by the people you follow? Why didn’t people trust their scoop? I wasn’t trying to make a definitive point as such: more raise questions about the shifting news culture when it comes to source verification etc.

  6. Ian Betteridge

    You’d have to ask them why they don’t trust it – as I say, I don’t read it, so I have no idea about its veracity.

    Sorry if this sounds dumb, but what questions are you actually raising?

  7. Judith Townend Post author

    The general gist was supposed to be – at what point did the main news organisations decide to trust the TMZ scoop and how did they report it? I perhaps wasn’t very overt, but for me that raised questions about what makes an online source trustworthy. For example, if NYTimes had run that headline people would have had far fewer reservations about retweeting it. But I’m not saying everyone has to be interested in those issues.

    In regards to the scoop: Guardian have just published an article ‘Michael Jackson: how celebrity gossip site TMZ got scoop of the decade’: I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but it was a heck of a scoop in my view and TMZ got fantastic name-checks for it all over the shop. Also this link is interesting (in my view!) from the Chicago Tribune on how “It was old media stalwarts that did the heavy lifting”:,0,5302945.story

  8. Pm

    Sun and Metro had Jacko front pages when I got to London. Turns out we just got an earlier edition in Brighton.

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