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Posted at 4:13 PM ET, 03/11/2010

Why the media can't resist Corey Haim, and other celeb deaths

By Jen Chaney

Corey Haim, former movie star and, now, subject of much media coverage. (AP)

When news broke early yesterday that Corey Haim had died at the age of 38, a predictable thing happened. His name became a hotly searched keyword on Google, and over on Twitter, topics like "Lost Boys" and "RIP Corey Haim" were suddenly trending in a big way.

As a result, media outlets ranging from CNN to MTV to TMZ (not to mention The Washington Post) scrambled to post details and tributes.

It's hardly the first time that the passing of a less-than-major movie star has yielded this kind of response. In recent weeks and months, everyone from Andrew Koenig to Brittany Murphy to alleged Tila-Tequila fiancee Casey Johnson has generated news coverage, primarily on the Web, that even five years ago was unheard of. As Liz wrote not too long ago in this very blog, death seems like the new guaranteed attention-getter: a tragic event that grabs the media spotlight and makes former (or even never-really-been) celebs a sudden focus of attention.

So why are news organizations suddenly covering these incidents with, in some cases, the same fervor once reserved for plane crashes and political bombshells? One major reason should be obvious to anyone with a basic understanding of the Internet: Web traffic.

When everyone suddenly rushes to Google to verify that the kid they so adored in "Lucas" or Tai from "Clueless" really has passed away, every news organization wants to be there to capture those clicks. Why? Because high page views are just like TV ratings: they give media organizations bragging rights, as well as the potential to bring in more ad revenue.

And since the beginning of time, has there been a newspaper, magazine, broadcast network or Web site that doesn't want to beat its competition to the latest big story? Exactly.

Of course, the natural follow-up question is, doesn't this amount to the equivalent of pandering to your audience? The answer, in my opinion: sometimes yes. In the quest for page views, sometimes journalists toss something up on the 'ol Web wall to make sure something, anything, sticks with readers.

But I'd also argue that thanks to the Web and the increasing number of entertainment news blogs (like this one)-- and all the myriad ways it allows us to gauge what readers are reading (or want to be reading) -- we're more in touch with our audience than we've ever been. Let's say Corey Haim had died five years ago. Would people who are interested in pop culture, in their 20s or 30s and, like (ahem) the writers of this blog, one-time avid fans of "The Lost Boys," have been just as interested in reading about his sad demise?

I'd say yes. But would your New York Times or Washington Post have written about it? I'm guessing not, because an editor -- perhaps one of an older generation -- would have said, "Eh, no one cares about Corey Haim."

Well, people do care and I would argue that they always have. (Shocking Hollywood deaths are as old as celluloid itself, after all.) But now the Internet, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, is forcing news organizations to take notice.

Readers, what do you think? Do we over-cover the passing of the famous and semi-famous, or do we handle it appropriately?

By Jen Chaney  | March 11, 2010; 4:13 PM ET
Categories:  Celebrities  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Twits Quiz: Eva Longoria, Snooki, Jessica Simpson, Kevin Nealon
Next: Haim died of pulmonary congestion, says mom; Conan O'Brien announces 30-city tour


I really hate to see a young man who had it going on.. die like this.. this pandemic of drug and alcohol abuse is being ignored by the mainstream.

I will say a prayer for his grieving Mother.

Posted by: newbeeboy | March 11, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Who are these people?

Posted by: bandmom22 | March 11, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

well for a column/blog titled "Celebritology" i'd expect you'd at least note current celebrity and popular stuff. if this were an article trying to correlate a slight down-turn in the Dow with Corey's untimely demise, then, well, i'd say that's prolly taking his influence too far.

Posted by: fish7170 | March 11, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

you ARE the media

Posted by: whocares666 | March 11, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Casey Johnson is not a celebrity. Did anyone know who she was before she died? i think not!

Posted by: Maddenguru24 | March 11, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

And yet, Merlin Olsen, Pro Football Hall of Famer, tv star on both Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy passes with barely a ripple.

Both yesterday when I got the news about Corey Haim and today about Merlin Olsen, I came right to Lizard Island to talk. I knew I would find sympathy and understanding (and a fine old BKD yesterday). Yesterday, 2 separate posts on Corey Haim's death. Today, nada on Merlin Olsen. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Of course this could say something about that the first thing I do is head here when I hear someone famous died. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

Posted by: epjd | March 11, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Since you asked, I think one mention was plenty. Didn't need two mentions and an odd look back at the two mentions disguised as something more academic.

Posted by: sarahabc | March 11, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Its simple... the journalists of todays media are by definition "Nosey" people. They love to get into peoples business. I used to think the journalist was an honorable profession... but these days... I find it quite a joke what they do on a daily basis...and the hand full of the more serious journalists are so over shadowed by the sensationism that I miss the legitiment news coverage.

With all the seriuos topics going on in the world today.. and these people are so caught up in unworthy news reporting. Television media is losing me fast.

Posted by: BobbyYarush | March 11, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

2.4 million people die each year in America, most if not all - as worthy a life lived. Or worthier, in the case of a Michael Jackson or Corey Haim.

That's just how it is.

I did have fond memories of the Great Mormon NFL'r, Merlin Olson. He was my Dad's idol, and one of the role models who lived up to his billing.
And I remember Brittany Murphy because she stood out in movies like "Don't Say a Word" and was a promising, attractive young woman.
And Farrah Fawcett because every American male since the mid-80s is familiar with "The Poster" - all smile and big blone hair and perfect bod with proudly standing out nipples - that made it one of the 20 or so truly immortal images of American History.

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | March 11, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

There is a time/place for this news . . . .that's why we come to you for it! Carry on.
Favorite Corey Haim role: Sally Fields' son in "Murphy's Romance".

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Posted by: chin123456 | March 11, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

The deaths of these minor celebs deserve no more attention than the death of any other individual. I'm saddened by any death that comes too soon, but I don't need to know about these deaths, I don't want to know about them, and I think it diminishes a paper such as the Washington Post when it seeks to emulate People Magazine and the celeb web bloggers.

Posted by: BwanaDik | March 11, 2010 8:33 PM | Report abuse

Celebrity deaths sell papers and magazines. If there is a positive side than it should be that tragic, senseless events such as these can illustrate to our young people that nobody is immune from the effects of abusing drugs. In celebrity circles it appears that putting yourself to sleep forever with a cocktail of painkillers and tranquilizers is becoming quite common. Remember Heath Ledger? It is sad that people can find a Doctor to perscribe anything they want. And equally sad that nobody is there to say stop.

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Posted by: Gary12 | March 11, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Sensationalism has sold papers since before the days of Joseph Pulitzer. Things are far worse now with the multiplicity of media outlets. As the lowest common denominators among our population have demanded more and more grocery-aisle-tabloid type coverage, serious news has suffered more and more. The average American dislikes having to think and analyze--with good reason as most can do neither very well. I moved my home page from CNN to the Post a few years ago as CNN moved to become more and more an internet tabloid. I hope the Post continues to choose not to follow that route. If it comes to that, it's the one paper I read on the net that I'd pay for. I don't want that to change.

Posted by: stuck_in_Lodi | March 11, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Get a life, people.

Ok, sorry this Haim fella died. Throughout the world, thousands of more consequence than he died today. Not too interested in that, huh?

If your lives are so vacant that you lose yourself in "celebritology" then I pity you. Actually, I take that back. I revel in feeling superior to you.


Posted by: ewsnyder | March 11, 2010 10:35 PM | Report abuse

ep, In all fairness, irishone commemorated Merlin Olsen at 2.22 PM, and I seconded the motion at 3:19 this afternoon. All three broadcast networks carried news stories re his death on their dinnertime newscasts tonight, too. A sportswriter friend of mine with whom I emailed this evening told me he knew Merlin slightly, and praised him highly both as a person and as a professional.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | March 11, 2010 11:50 PM | Report abuse

Man! I missed a BKD yesterday! I need to stop untethering myself from the Internets!

Posted by: MzFitz | March 12, 2010 12:29 AM | Report abuse

you ARE the media

Posted by: whocares666 | March 11, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Tee hee.

Posted by: jezebel3 | March 12, 2010 8:13 AM | Report abuse

This is how I wish to remember Corey. He mad a 10 minute documentary in 1989 right after "Lost Boys" and he was still trying to hold on to his fame.
here is the clip:

Posted by: nineteen80snore | March 15, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

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