Reports of Petty’s death raise issues
Tom Petty, a rocker with roots going back decades, died Monday at age 66.
His loss was one felt across the world of rock music, from fans to fellow artists.
He had a sound that was instantly identifiable, music that became ingrained in the mind after hearing a song just once, and a rocker’s lifestyle consisting of a hard-lived youth and a bit of maturing as an adult.
The reactions came swiftly from a who’s who of rock, from Bruce Springsteen to Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan to Norah Jones and about any famous musician of any kind in between.
At the heart of it was Petty’s family, and here’s where his death is more than just a loss to the world.
It, sadly, serves as an object lesson in the instantaneous world of always-on “journalism” on the Internet.
Petty was hospitalized Sunday evening after suffering a heart attack at home. That he had just come off what he said would be his last major tour makes the attack poignant.
But it’s from there that Petty was treated more as a piece of information than an artist, a flesh-and-blood human being and a loved family leader.
For hours before he died, word spread on the Internet from TMZ that Petty was effectively dead and gone when he was brought to the hospital Sunday night. CBS reported Monday that Petty was dead. Sources without names were mentioned throughout the stories, and news outlet after news outlet picked up the tale, all running in a chain back to CBS, with no independent confirmation made.
The Associated Press did what used to be done in the world of journalism before the ability to spread a bad story like wildfire instantaneously: Reporters started checking verifiable sources. The Los Angeles Police Department had nothing to say and denied having officially spoken to CBS. There was no death certificate. Petty’s management had issued no statements and was making no return calls.
So, the AP didn’t join the frenzy, despite fans now pronouncing Petty dead across social media platforms throughout Monday afternoon and evening and offering thoughts and memories.
He actually died around 11:40 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time and his managers issued a statement.
One of his daughters, rightly so, took major news outlets to task with a tweet storm for being insensitive, and being in such a rush to announce her father’s death that file photos from decades ago were used.
Yes, the legend, the iconic voice of such hits as “Free Fallling,” “Last Dance with Mary Jane” and “Refugee” was gone and will be missed.
But we hope his death is a lesson in this world of instant information relays: There are flesh-and-blood human beings behind every story, and it is critical in an era of fake news and outright hatred of real journalism that the stories are vetted and every effort is made to do it right.