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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Journalism's First Big Blunder of 2006

4

January

Didn't take long for journalists to walk into their first pile of trouble in the New Year: Taking their cue from celebrating relatives and the governor of West Virginia, newspapers across the country -- including the St. Petersburg Times -- reported on their front pages that 12 workers trapped at a mine in Tallmansville, W. Va. were found alive.

Jubilant cable TV news types could just switch course when the mining company finally confirmed at 3 a.m. or so that early reports of 12 survivors were fiction. Newspapers like the Times, which has a deadline of about midnight for news, were stuck with headlines which were the exact opposite of the truth -- from USA Today to the Los Angeles Times (check out all the newspapers which got it right or wrong via the Newseum's catalog of front pages).

Why were news outlets basing their initial reports on feedback from relatives? Why did it take the mining company so long to stamp out the rumors, when they had some idea after 20 minutes that initial reports might be wrong? Did cable TV's incessant coverage -- speeding up the pressure for definitive information quickly -- affect everyone else's coverage? These are questions I'll be trying to answer in my reporting today.

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

    

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