Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Chilling video

It's chilling video knowing the ending.

Pictures of families rejoicing.

I stood watching in horror as the replay came down on the satellite feed this morning. After living a day and a half worrying about their loved ones trapped in a mine, families in a rural West Virginia community get word the word they are alive.

Knowing the awful truth to follow I think, "Oh my God, those poor people."

With the flicker of a slate and the beginning of a new tape the rejoicing turns to images of grief.

Here's just one story:

[T]heir joy turned instantly to fury.


The devastating information about the dead shocked and angered family members, who had rejoiced with Gov. Joe Manchin hours earlier when word spread that 12 miners were alive. Bystanders applauded as they saw McCloy brought from the mine early Wednesday, not realizing he would be the only one to make it out alive.


But late Tuesday night, families began streaming out of the church, yelling "They're alive!" The church bells began ringing and families embraced, as politicians proclaimed word of the apparent rescue a miracle. The governor was among those who announced there were 12 survivors.

Hatfield blamed the wrong information on a "miscommunication." The news spread after people overheard cell phone calls, he said. In reality, rescuers had only confirmed finding 12 miners and were checking their vital signs. At least two family members in the church said they received cell phone calls from a mine foreman.

"That information spread like wildfire, because it had come from the command center," he said.

I've never been on any story exactly like this one. I have been on stories where family members have given us information that may not be readily available from "Officials". We either treat this information as background or give it the modifier "according to so and so".

The facts have not all been fleshed out, but if(as according to the story) you have the governor telling you the miners are alive, how much more confirmation do you need? Unless the governor said he only had gotten the information from the families, the governor counts in my book. That's not to say I wouldn't get suspicious if, after awhile, new information failed to trickle out.

I hope the critiques deserved for the press are aimed at the right spot. In the little I've seen, it appears the blame goes into the continued publication and broadcasting of the wrong information. The media did not give the wrong information to the families. The families unwittingly gave that out.

For example: I was watching a replay of Geraldo's live interview of some family members who had just come out of the church celebrating. He asked them why they were so happy. They replied they had been told the miners were found alive. Geraldo asked several times "Who" told you this. As he is trying to figure out what's going on you hear the bells ringing and more people come out of the church rejoicing and calling family members about the good news.

The downfall came when the wrong story was left to linger for several hours and no new information came out. Being a journalist, I would be aghast if this happened to me. I know there is a lesson to be learned and I hope that we learn it. I don’t think the solution is to not report the news, but to be more aware as events are coming in live. Reporters need to temper reports like this by reminding people this is unconfirmed information. I think the media outlets burnt the worst on this are the print outlets who have early deadlines and can't easily change their reportage.

Bottom line, the circumstances played against both the "live/gotta have it first" mentality and immovable deadlines faced by today's media. We just need to be aware of these limitations and make sure our reporting reflects these limits.

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