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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Before we throw stones

"They're alive!"

It's hard to imagine the roller coaster ride the families in West Virginia have been on in the past few hours. Stop. Think for just a moment, how this could happen.

And, it could. When one wants so desperately to believe in miracles, it's easy to grasp immediately on to any kind of news. A young woman in last night's newscast summed up the mistake, "All I heard them say, is 'We've found the miners!" She said jubilantly. Her comments made me pause for just a second last night before I too gave into the notion that the miners were indeed alive.

I kept searching the crowd that the cameras were panning. Where are the miners? Where are the ambulances? I kept thinking. After an hour there were none, but I like every one else went to bed. Newspaper editors around the country can hardly be blamed for putting the paper to bed, and leaving before the truth was known at 3 a.m. Most people don't understand that a paper can hold for only so long in order for people to get it on their doorstep in the morning.

So this morning - today -- we're hearing accusations. They knew and didn't tell us. They lied. Newspapers lied. They were wrong.

It's going to take a while to understand where communication broke down. I'm sure there will be one person singled out to blame. Lawyers will be called, analysts will analyze, and pundits will criticize, settlements agreed upon. But in the end, the miners will still be gone. Their families left to imagine the pain and fear they must have felt and to pick up the pieces. That's what we all have to do...pick up the pieces.

2 comments:

wordgirl said...

I can't believe that any entity (however heartless)could think that temporary-but-false hope is better than preparing someone for grim reality. I hope that's not what happened in Virginia.

Sherrie said...

From what I've read, someone overheard them saying "We're checking vitals" and assumed that meant the were alive, and things took off from there.

On deadline, hearing family members and elected officals saying that, I think I'd have run with the story. The presses were waiting, and you can't hold out forever at midnight.

Now, what the company did, not correcting the news immediately, or clarifying, that's unconscionable. And I'll bet money they get off the hook and the media gets the blame. But company officials seem to have known that the "good" news was out, and did nothing to stem the tide and caution or temper the news.

You can't blame reporters on this. In a story like this, family members are a direct source. You can't always wait for the press conference, especially on deadline. And if anyone should know, it should be the families.

An aside: the local paper in W.V. held off on reporting the good news. NPR asked why. The editor and reporter both said that folks down there have a history of saying what they want to believe, though it might not necessarily be true.

Hence, they waited for the mine officials, not the families, to report what happened. Being an out-of-town reporter, you wouldn't know or think about a culture like that, and thus, wouldn't hesitate to report what a family member told you.

A mess, but the media didn't get it wrong. They published the story, as was known to be true, at the time that it happened. The downfall, of course, is that news can change overnight and papers have to be printed, given dry time, shipment time, and delivery time.