When CNN’s Anderson Cooper allowed that first bleary-eyed man to tell the whole world that 12 of the Sago coal miners had survived, he crossed the line. It did little good to ask how he was sure that was right. It’s sensationalism, and it’s wrong. I only hope that most newspapers held up going to press long enough to get the right story.
In a mad rush to get the information out first, media outlets sometimes forget to get it right. Tuesday’s Sago coal mine story was a tragically painful reminder of that.
Reporting the news. Typing it out, broadcasting it over the airwaves. That’s the easy part. The gathering is the hard part. I know because I’ve been a reporter. The best writing and presentation skills are useless without research.
Cooper showed us a slideshow of joyful townspeople gathered near the rescue site. As the photos came on the screen one after the other, Cooper said for the viewer to imagine churchbells ringing, as they had been when the waiting crowd was told there were survivors. There were family and friends, first huddled together in anticipation, and then smiling in relief. They hugged, kissed, and used their mobile phones to spread the good word.
Along with those directly affected by this event, millions of viewers and I went to bed believing that all but one of the miners had been found alive.
When I turned on the radio this morning, I thought I heard something about 12 people dead, and at first I was sure it was just a coincidence in numbers. The announcers moved to other news, and not until after my shower did I hear the mining disaster mentioned again. There were 12 dead, and they were the miners reported alive only hours before.
I immediately thought of those who had lived in fear since Monday, only to have hope given and again ripped away. Their streaming tears of joy turned to rivulets of sorrow.
I know that not every detail of every story can be witnessed by reporters, so to an extent they must rely on the word of others. Putting the average Joe on camera before interviewing him and verifying the information, however, is inexcusable. From now on, I’ll only rely on CNN and other news channels for the latest live, late-breaking footage of a corporate jet approaching the runway with faulty landing gear. Because that is certainly worth my time.
More on Sago coal mine here: