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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Big Blunder 2006: The Aftermath

5

January

In the wake of a tsunami of complaints regarding the mistaken reporting on the deaths of 12 miners in West Virginia, newspapers spent loads of ink explaining what went wrong. (check out my story on the whole debacle -- including an appearance from ""warrior journalist" Geraldo Rivera, here)

For newspapers in the east and central time zones, the problems could be summed up by a quote from Orlando Sentinel editor Charlotte Hall, who noted the paper's 225,000 copy run was done by 3 a.m. when the new news of the miners' deaths was revealed: "Our press run was in those three hours, when the misinformation was about. So we couldn't do anything."

I am surprised that some newspapers -- including the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune -- said they wouldn't run corrections, but new stories with the correct information. While it is true that headlines such as They're Alive were an honest mistake, they were incorrect and should be acknowledged in a message to readers by editors, I think. (The Tribune's home page today doesn't even feature a story on the mines)

Other surprises: news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, The NewYork Times and the Associated Press either declined to comment beyond a prepared statement (AP and NYT) or referred me to a pr person who was not a journalist to answer questions (LAT). I was quite disappointed that news orgs which demand access from other companies in times of crises offered little to none when they made a mistake.

Here's a few interesting quotes I couldn't fit into today's story:

"The problem comes when there are thousands of Americans who don't catch up and don't realize (the initial reporting) was wrong. The danger of a media that doesn't confirm what they are reporting is that myth becomes fact before it is too late.''
Brian Stelter, creator of the TV Newser Web log.


"Knowing that every other major newspaper in the country did the same thing is no consolation. On TV, they say it one time and it's gone. We have a different responsiblity, because once its there, it's permanent."
--George de Lama, deputy managing editor for news, Chicago Tribune.

"We were victimized by the nature of the phenomenon. We get the information from sources presumably in the know. How could you not trust those guys in the command center, (or) the miners families? In (former FEMA head) Michael Brown's case, there really was dissembling there. There really was gross incompetence. He told Shep Smith on Tuesday (after Hurricane Katrina) that help was on the way. On Friday when I got there, there were still people who didn't have a loaf of bread or bottle of water. If it comes from the mineshaft...it was from an eyewitness.''
--- Geraldo Rivera, Fox News Channel correspondent

"I began to get uneasy when time when by and there was no official briefing called and only one ambulance was seen leaving the mine. With all these miners rescued, all the officials would be out there. But you don't want to be the one cynic to throw cold water on it all. It was about a quarter to 2 a.m. when they had time to plug in my cell phone call...and I said I was uneasy, or unnerved by the fact that all this has not had an official confirmation."
--- Robert Hager, retired NBC News correspondent, who came out of retirement to help cover the mine disaster and sounded one of the few notes of restraint before the 3 a.m. announcement of the miners' deaths.

"Everybody can't go around emoting. You don't want everybody to wear their heart on their sleeves. But some people are like reporter/analyts or reporter/commentators. Find a journalism school these days which says a reporter can't show emotion during a story."
--- Geraldo Rivera

And here's a piece by CNN's Anderson Cooper explaining his point of view.

As always, your comments are welcome.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]

    

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