Why the media can't resist Corey Haim, and other celeb deaths
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?
| March 11, 2010; 4:13 PM ET
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