Some Thoughts on Covering Celebrity Deaths in the Metal Scene
It sucks. It’s one of the most difficult things we do. People are shocked, they’re grieving, they’re hurting. It’s our job to present the information available to the hungry public while maintaining sympathy for the band, their family and friends.
Celebrity deaths are the most popular posts we publish. By far… it’s not even close.
(The Tim Lambesis and Randy Blythe trials also resulted in heavy traffic, not that either of those falls into the “peachy fun” category either.)
It sucks to admit that, but it’s true. No one in the press likes to talk about this because it’s embarrassing, and one wants to profit from death. And yet, all of us in the media most certainly do. And we all know it. From the very smallest blogs who write a personal tribute piece right up to the New York Timeses and CNNs of the world who publish a standard obituary, everyone knows this one simple maxim: death is good for business.
The question then becomes this: what’s the line between publishing the news that people so desperately want to read and mining tragedy for clicks?
Further: there are people who are hurting, REALLY hurting. Not just fans, but friends and family. Completely blindsided, shocked, overwhelmed with emotion. And they’re forced to see Every Fucking Website constantly writing about something that’s still fresh, knowing that those websites don’t even have all the facts yet.
At MetalSucks, we are acutely aware of these issues and discuss them internally regularly. We do our best to give people the information they’re looking for without over-posting. After all, these are the stories you, as media consumers, flock to read more than anything else. We aren’t pushing anything on you. The literal thousands of posts we have published (and continue to publish) on unsigned and lesser-known bands continue to go mostly unread. This is what you want to read. Yes, you.
That’s not an attempt to blame our readers or deflect responsibility for what we report and how we report it. It’s just a statement of fact.
There’s now an established format for how coverage surrounding a death in the metal community will unfold. 1) News breaks; we post. 2) More details emerge; we post. 3) The community grieves, sites post “Metal Celebrities React to the Death of ____” articles. 4) Bands perform live covers of the deceased band’s songs; we post. 5) Family, friend and band members comment; we post.
It’s at this point that any further posts about the deceased start to feel forced and we feel obliged to stop. By this time it’s already been two or three days since the death, and it feels like overload. It’s difficult to resist, though: any posts related to death continue to be a cash cow.
This problem is compounded when we, the MetalSucks Editors-in-Chief, are not particularly fond of the body of work of the musician who has passed. It’s our duty to report on the facts… but what else?
Yes, this post was inspired by the death of Chester Bennington. And no, it’s not lost on me that this post is about death, too, perpetuating the very phenomenon I’m seeking to highlight.
We’ve endlessly bagged on Linkin Park for the entire duration of this site’s history, including this post in which we marveled at a movie scene in which Chester Bennington died but were careful to point out we didn’t wish him any real harm. We acknowledged up front in the posts covering Bennington’s death that we were never fans. That doesn’t mean we wished death upon Bennington, or upon anyone. It also doesn’t mean we should ignore the story completely; Bennington’s death effects this entire community, regardless of whether you were a fan of his work or not. So too does suicide effect all of us. For a metal site to not report on Bennington’s death at all would be Really Fucking Weird.
Cornell’s death was much easier to cover in that regard. It cut deep to the very essence of who Axl and I are as music fans. We grew up with Soundgarden. Same for Weiland and Lemmy, and for the recent health scares of Tony Iommi, Bruce Dickinson and countless others. The guy from Static-X, not so much.
We need to acknowledge that, from a business perspective, we must cover deaths. Any for-profit news organization’s editors that claim otherwise are deluding themselves. But that necessity can easily co-exist with our obligation to the community and our personal tastes for the artist in question. All of the above are true.
Kim Kelly’s paean to Linkin Park for Noisey was honest and heartfelt, coming from someone to whom the band’s music had a tremendous impact on their formative years. You didn’t see a piece like that on MetalSucks because you, me and everyone know that it would have been complete bullshit — we weren’t fans — whereas the piece I wrote following Scott Weiland’s death was akin to Kim’s, completely from the heart.
We cover a death until it no longer feels right to continue doing so. This holds regardless of whether or not we were fans of the deceased’s music, although our fandom and personal connections to the band certainly dictate where that “breaking point” will be.
I do not think we went too far with regards to Chester Bennington’s death, though I am certainly aware of — and sensitive to — those concerns. There are other sites in our community who I believe did continue to cover the death long past the time in which it felt appropriate, but really, who am I to say? If you were a fan of the band and deeply affected by Bennington’s death, continue paying tribute for as long as you’d like. Shit, the tributes to Lemmy are still coming from some corners of the metalsphere and he died nearly two years ago. We’re not far off from the fifteenth anniversary of Dimebag’s death, and both his birthday and deathday spark an outpouring of love each and every year.
Covering deaths is incredibly tough. While there’s been a lot of disagreement about the “right” way to do it, I think we can all agree on what the wrong way is. Be classy, be sensitive. Let’s not allow death — the ultimate tragedy — to tear us apart even further.