The Washington Times recently published an article by Red Banyan Group’s Founder and Principal Evan Nierman, where the communications expert shared his unique insight and takeaways from the Lamar Odom story that has taken the national news media by storm in recent weeks.
In a fascinating and thought-provoking piece entitled “Lamar Odom Media Coverage Provides Lessons in Reality,” Nierman talks about today’s sensationalist media-driven society and draws surprising parallels between Lamar Odom’s unfortunate accident and the current state of our news and entertainment industry.
Find out more in the full piece, included below:
Lamar Odom Media Coverage Provides Lessons in Reality
The media maelstrom that has swirled since former professional basketball player Lamar Odom was reported unresponsive in a Nevada brothel has been a fascinating, if deeply disturbing peek at the modern-day news cycle.
Thankfully for Odom and his loved ones, he has so far managed to defy the doomsday expectations by recovering, thereby veering radically from the expected reality TV script which would have seen him mourned, lauded, pitied, praised and then ultimately given a memorable send-off in in a celebrity-studded funeral.
As news broke about ambulances being dispatched to save his life, TV stations, newspapers, magazines, websites, bloggers and social media users of all stripes raced to chase the story. Confusion abounded, with some celebrities erroneously believing that he had died, tweeting farewell wishes to Mr. Odom to their followers. Millions of people everywhere followed Twitter for updates, many of them offering condolences or prayers.
Less than one week later, Mr. Odom appears to be on the road to recovery and the story has largely receded from the headlines. The latest blow-by-blow coverage has moved from the nation’s most prominent publications to those magazines and websites that make their living by delivering a steady stream of juicy celebrity gossip and dutifully reporting on every single thing that any member of the Kardashian family may or may not have done or said.
In anything good can come from all of this it is hopefully that Mr. Odom’s brush with death shined a light on the serious dangers posed by herbal Viagra and other drugs that Americans send coursing through their bodies with hardly a thought as to the very real consequences they can produce. That is the story with the greatest ability to truly impact the lives of people, yet it has largely been drowned out by the day-to-day focus on whether Mr. Odom would live or die.
Hopefully, people will now have a second thought before they purchase slick marketing concoctions that are deceptively marketed as “herbal” or “natural.” In truth, there is nothing natural about ingesting unknown substances based on the promises they deliver on their packaging.
Products such as the herbal Viagra taken by Mr. Odom are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so people are popping pills with literally no idea what may be in them. Many of the raw materials come from China and other nations with lax oversight. From magic weight loss pills to fat burners to products promising increased focus and concentration, we are often entrusting our well-being to people more interested in turning a profit than improving health.
Many of the companies producing these products have no idea what is contained in the products they are shilling because they lack the sophisticated equipment to actually test and verify their content. And many don’t even care. Less scrupulous operators have even continued to ship products even after it has been revealed that they are dangerous in the hopes that they can get the products off their hands and convert them into ill gotten gains before they are forced to stop selling them.
Part of the reason that the Mr. Odom story took off like a rocket ship was the fact that it brought together its own volatile cocktail of sex and drugs. Add to that the fact that it enabled people to peek into the incredibly private details and talk about the private parts of a very public person.
When Mr. Odom was comatose and his condition critical, that bright light glowing in the distance was probably not the one reported by people with near-death experiences, but the blinding halo of TV cameras lined up outside his hospital where reporters did stand-ups on his condition. Even for a reality TV star, this past week has placed him and his family under the glaring and unflinching, white-hot spotlight.
In a sense, Mr. Odom went totally off-script. He defied the prognosticators who prematurely declared him dead. His recovery has come about in the wake of heartless jokes and surly snipes that abounded on Twitter.
Ironically, the media may have been cheated on this story. After all, it would have been all too easy to pigeonhole him into the time-tested formula of celebrity death coverage. He would have been reduced to another footnote, falling into line behind Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson and so many others.
In today’s media-driven world, where an avalanche of information is only as far away as the nearest smartphone, there is simply no place to hide. Once people decide to put themselves out there in a public manner it is hard to step back from the abyss. Those being hounded by the press often face a harrowing choice: engage and try to help shape the story or decline and still have to read an avalanche of reports written quickly and posted online for all the world to find and read.
Reality TV is an oxymoron, and there are growing legions willing to step forward to become the next stars, even if it means sacrificing their privacy in exchange for fleeting fame.
A lesson to draw from this week’s coverage of Lamar Odom is that the line between entertainment and news has been irrevocably blurred. That is our new reality. And like herbal Viagra, we are swallowing dangerous doses without pausing to fully consider the risks.
Evan Nierman is founder of Red Banyan Group, a strategic communications and public relations firm with offices in Florida and Washington, D.C.