Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The West Virginia Miners

Many of you awoke to a newspaper headline proclaiming: "DREAMS SRE ANSWERED - MINERS ALIVE" - or something to that effect. It's "Dewey defeats Truman" all over again. The miners were not alive. For several hours in the middle of the night reports were that 12 of the 13 miners were alive. The families celebrated. Fact is, 12 were DEAD and 1 was alive. What happened? It comes down to one person eavesdropping on a cell phone call from the rescuers. That person reported to the Governor - who in turn announced the happy news. The cable news channels went crazy. News websites around the world reported the news. What happened? Simple. The first rule in media journalism was broken. TWO SOURCES. Hell, I'm not even in news - just the media business - and I know the rule. They teach it in college journalism. It's preached in newsrooms all across America everyday. Stories are NOT reported BECAUSE there is just one source. Media today is instantaneous. There is a competition between outlets to get the story first. This is where the whole process breaks down. One single solitary person gets it wrong - and the wrong news circles the world in an instant. NBC reports it because CNN did. CBS reports it because Associated Press did. Reuters reports it because a local West Virginia TV station did. The BBC reports it because - well everybody is. Media chooses it words carefully. Stuff like, "reports are" & "it's being reported." Everyone's stealing from one another - and not one reporter got it right - because they broke the cardinal rule. TWO SOURCES.
A couple of media people will be fired today. They'll be in the newsrooms - run "old school." Most however, will keep their jobs because these days, whose "old school?" This will happen again - and your faith in media to "get it right" will be diminished a little bit more.