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Rush to cover missing boaters story brings mistakes, criticism and apologies



Even now, Steve Duemig isn’t quite sure what happened.Missing_players

But the longtime sports talk host began his 3 p.m. radio show Tuesday with an apology, after another personality on his station criticized him for mistakenly reporting the day before that the Coast Guard may have rescued several football players lost in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Monday, after rescuers pulled Nick Schuyler from a capsized boat, Duemig told listeners to his WDAE-AM show that an additional man had been found, believed to be former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Marquis Cooper (shown, at right, below fellow boater and Oakland Raiders player Corey Smith), based on a text message from a friend the radio host still calls “a really good source.”

Within minutes, the host was telling listeners of another object in the water, which could be a person. But then he received an alarming text saying, “False report. False report. I can’t say any more.” So Duemig stopped talking about it.

Mediaboater But Duemig had already joined several local news outlets that reported bad information on Monday about the search for four friends lost since Saturday -– bulletins that spread across the Internet, fueled by hope that rescuers would find Schuyler’s three companions and because of intense national interest in the story.

CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 also briefly reported Cooper had been found Monday, based on information from a member of his family, according to news director Darren Richards. WTSP’s report was retracted, but not before it was picked up on several sports blogs that caught the attention of J.P. Peterson on WQYK-AM, who cited WTSP's  reporting on his show.

Listeners and viewers were caught between the fluctuating reports on a continuously evolving story, the instant speed of the Internet and the hazy status of sports talk shows — which sometimes turn into breaking news platforms when hosts try passing along information on a news event as it is happening.

“All along, I was saying, ‘These are the reports I’m getting, they’re not confirmed,’” Duemig told listeners Tuesday, after WDAE morning personality Ron Diaz criticized his mistake on air that morning. “If anyone got false hope, I deeply, deeply apologize.”

Before his show Tuesday, Duemig told me he doesn’t consider himself a journalist, though he acknowledged later he sometimes acts like one -– passing along tips received from friends and trusted sources on his radio show.

At 1 p.m. Monday, he began receiving text messages from his source, which seemed to have information the news media was later reporting. So when his show started at 3 p.m., Duemig passed along the information, with the knowledge of his bosses at WDAE, he said.

“If it would have been bad news, I wouldn’t have said anything,” Duemig added. “But I said ‘This is optimistic, so I’m going to run with it.’”

Missingboater At WTSP, news director Richards took responsibility for their error, noting that the station had been covering the search continuously for hours online and on air, bypassing typical confirmations to get its report on air quickly. “If we had not been in continuous coverage mode, this wouldn’t have happened,” Richards added, noting they would move more carefully in the future.

And on Tuesday, several outlets, including the St. Petersburg Times, cited a Sarasota Herald-Tribune  report that police thought a body might have surfaced off Turtle Beach. Officers later determined it was likely a big fish -- another sign that any report can resonate in this new media ecology.


(Coast Guard photo)

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:55pm]


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