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The Mine Disaster Mess

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Huge, inexcusable mistakes were made by members of the mainstream media in the reporting of the West Virginia Mine Explosion. As a matter of fact, the people responsible for the mistakes that were made in the coverage of this story should lose their jobs. More on that in a minute.

Meanwhile over here in the blogosphere, some of our members made mistakes as well. The major mistake made by these bloggers was to assume that what the mainstream was reporting was accurate.

By following the lead of the mainstream media, some of our ranks may have lost sight of exactly why we exist.

Even though most of us recognize that the mainstream media has lost their way and needs to be overhauled, some of us may reflexively – subconsciously or otherwise – still trust the mainstream in times of crisis. Just as many people still trust – or want to have trust in – the government.

This kind of trust is deep-seeded in our psyche and comes from having mainstream media types lionized over the past 100 years via our entertainment complex. Also, these media types follow the lead of “Hollywood,” and reinforce this image when they act the part and do everything in their power to become bigger than the news that they cover.

Through people and characters like Lou Grant, Woodward and Bernstein, Clark Kent, Walter Winchell, Walter Cronkite, Ben Bradlee, and Perry White we’ve been conditioned to respect members of the media, to look to them for comfort in times of crisis and to treat them as heroes and keepers of “the truth.” As 2006 has rolled around, most of us know better, but old habits die hard, especially under duress and stress.

In the case of the Mine Disaster our bloggers seemed to forget that the media – the old media – is flawed and not to be trusted or “followed,” especially by us.

The coverage of this Mine Disaster should be the defining moment for bloggers. There should never be another instance where blog accounts follow along the same lines as the mainstream media accounts.

After all, what would be the reason for reporting the same thing on your blog that people can find on Yahoo or Google News, or on CNN or Fox, or in the online version of a local paper? If we do this kind of reporting just to get hits, we’re cheapening our effort; we undermine our fight for credibility and become the thing that we fight against.

There is no reason to just pick up on something already reported on by the networks, newspapers, and news organizations if we can’t question it or add something to it.

In this instance if you go back and read accounts of what was going on, there’s no specific mention of where the news that the miners were still alive came from. Professional media types – editors and writers – should be ashamed of themselves for going to print or to the airwaves with this “news.” And people should lose their jobs as a result of this sloppiness.

Bloggers should have noticed that there was no mention of anything that attributed this hopeful news to anyone. Hindsight is 20/20, and for a reason. We have to be able to recognize when mistakes are made, and how to make sure the same mistakes don’t happen again.

For bloggers who followed the lead established by the establishment and echoed these reports, I’m not looking to blame, but chalking this up as a growing pain. After all, we haven’t been around that long, and there are always instances from which we can learn.

As a result of this whole mishegas, our rallying cry should be – for the final time – “we won’t be fooled again.”

Sometimes people follow the lead of people they used to respect, even though they should know better. But at some point in this process you have to finally cut the cord. Let us use the coverage of this Mine Disaster as the time we as bloggers cut the cord to the mainstream media and remember why we are here.

Personally, I decided to blog because I was dissatisfied with the coverage, tone and style of coverage that existed – and still exists – in the fitness and sports media. I don’t blog just so I can be like the talking heads on ESPN, the contributors to ESPN.com or writers who work for America’s dailies and magazines. I blog because I want to offer something different, an alternative to what I see as substandard and shallow coverage of subjects that are important to me.

Hopefully, bloggers will learn from this example of how not to cover a story like this and as a result will let the members of the mainstream media be the only ones that operate with egg on their collective face.

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About Sal Marinello

  • JR

    Wait, how do you know those twelve miners are really dead? How do you know there even was a mine explosion? In fact, have you ever actually seen West Virginia with your own eyes?

  • Sister Ray

    My local paper, The Indianapolis Star, published a “They’re Alive” headline. It was corrected on the Web site and the editor wrote an explanation.

    According to his explanation, the Associated Press reported at 11:52 p.m. that “Family members say 12 miners trapped after an explosion in West Virginia are alive.” So the paper went with that story.

    I think it’s like the 2000 presidential election, when no one knew what was going on.

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    The Associated Press, etc. are reliable enough – it is fatuous to believe you, or any blogger could write about news-worthy events without picking up and running with information from ‘reliable sources’.

    Shit happens, mines are dark places

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    I hadthe same thing at the top of my paper this morning. The Virginia Pilot got the score of the Orange Bowl right, but missed the miner story big time!

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Sal, with respect, you haven’t been paying attention to what really happened. Either that or your info is from one source. The “mainstream media” was trying viciously to confirm this story, but, instead, it leaked out to ever-hopeful family members that these people were alive. And who can blame them for wanting.

    And WITH the aid of technology this spread before it could be stopped. When the AP was hearing from multiple sources it went with what it had from all those people – including quoting those family members. Then the real news hit.

    This is no such defining moment as you try and make it out to be. A little misreporting from yourself, if only by omission

    It’s not an either / or situation in any case. By this logic of yours, everytime a blogger got something seriously wrong the whole blogosphere should be shut down.

  • ClubStyleDJ

    I would like to put in my official “who’s to blame” choice: The almighty Dollar and man’s desire to obtain as many as possible, and FIRST. Web hit’s earn money (thought i heard 12cents per hit or something like that). Newspaper sales earn money. “Comercial” <=(operative word here) TV broadcasts sell airtime for money to ad guys with major budgets. If your comercial is on during Clark Kent’s or Walter Cronkite’s segment(massive amounts of viewers)..(you guessed it…air cost more). These guys didn’t care about feelings of loved ones. If I’m not mistaken aren’t there major meetings about what goes in a headline or over the broadcasted air? Somebody high up dropped the ball on this one. (maybe it was Bush he gets blamed for everything else.(poor little fella). Back in the good ole days ’97-’98. The internet was supposed to be the place for willy nilly news and non verifyable information. But what these guys are afraid of IS the Internet. Heaven forbid a news guy hears “I read it on the internet” not your paper. So they do and say what they think will bring in the money. You are correct these guys should place their heads on a platter and offer it up…. (chuckle, chukle tee hee….yeah like that’s gonna happen) NOT!
    They’ll be back reporting willy nilly (tryin’ to scoop the competition) during the next news worthy thing they can screwup happens.

    To quote John Stewart: (Foxnews….WE decide)

    CSDJ

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Bloggers had two options on this story:

    (1) Report what they saw on CNN
    (2) Report nothing

    Rare exceptions would be that dutiful writer who lives in Upshur County, West Virginia. Does such a being exist?

    All the big media outlets had all the resources. In an ongoing story like a White House investigation, more anonymous tips can leak into blogs, but for something as rapid as a 48-hour story, it’s difficult for alternative news sources to expend enough time and energy towards the story and make it worth their while.

    I hear your message though, Sal. Don’t rubber stamp everything cable news and AP reports.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    I think that’s been said since Gutenberg (or scratches in the dirt), it’s nothing new at all: Don’t believe everything you read.

    Trouble is we’re a culture where it’s not facts that seem to matter – but impressions. Example — Are we feeling secure? Great. Are we any more secure? No.

  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com deano

    “In the case of the Mine Disaster our bloggers seemed to forget that the media – the old media – is flawed and not to be trusted or “followed,” especially by us.”

    I find it interesting that you claim the ‘old media’ is flawed and not to be trusted yet every single blog I’ve read doesn’t develop or break news – it repeats, parasites and belabours the mainstream news feeds. It is entirely dependent on the main stream news sources for its very existance…bluntly bloggers rarely ever don’t follow the mainstream news.

    The distinction you need to draw is that bloggers are media analysts and aggregators rather then media news reporters. While a handful of bloggers may actually “cover” a news story it is generally done through covering the existing slate of media stories and opinions. Incidents such as a blogger breaking and covering a news story are very, very rare.

    Bloggers do not have a concrete hold on the truth by virtue of some inate skepticism or anti-media stance – I’ve read a number of blogs and blog postings (some on this very site) that were utter piles of steaming crap, with the authors manifestly and overtly lying to meet their particular political ends. I would trust a mainstream media reporter from a major paper or network as a source of independently verifiable news far more readily then I ever would a lone blogger, because, decry it as some bloggers do, the mainstream media does operate within a structure that forces a level of professionalism upon the news-gathering and news-reporting system.

    That does not mean it is perfect, that does not mean it can’t be prejudiced, biased, politicized…but it does mean that the process by which that news is gathered and desseminated is a structured one that helps ensure the quality of the information being supplied. Keep in mind the papers basically put out a brand new product ever single day…and they do get a fair amount of it right.

    Blogging is nothing new – pampleteers and polemics have been around for thousands of years, the only difference is the tools, scope and reach that they now have. Blaming the mainstream media for a honest mistake in a situation like the mining disaster is a particularly shallow attack.

  • http://trinimansblog.blogspot.com/ Triniman

    During one radio report, I thought I heard a woman say that they were going to sue somebody, presumably the coal company. I also heard that someone lunged at a coal company official in the church,when the real news was relayed.

    What ever happened to forgiveness? It will be interesting to see if lawsuits are filed or if folks forgive the origin of the false news – the “foreman” (if he is ever identified) or the coal company as a whole. Of course, if there’s negligence on behlf of the coal company, that’s another matter.

  • sal m

    as bloggers we’re not supposed to break news in cases where we can’t be there, but at the same time we are not here to just repeat what we are told either.

    if a blogger was at the mine site and got the story wrong by posting the bad info on their blog they would be just as bad as the editor who allowed a writer’s story to appear without noting that there has been no confirmation from anyone in authority that there was a reason to believe people were alive.

    the mainstream media CAN be blamed in large part for this mess for not making the distinction that the news of survivors could not be confirmed. that is an oversight that a first year journalism student should be able to make. a simple, “we cannot confirm from reliable sources that there are in fact survivors” would have done the trick. and we could have done without the huge headlines proclaiming that there were 12 survivors, as well.

    and with regards to what a blogger is, it isn’t my position that they are in a position to break news. i don’t say that anywhere. i do say that we shouldn’t be just repeating what has been put out there by the establishment.

  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com deano

    Sal,

    But the point is that you do repeat it what is being said, bloggers mainly don’t originate the news or the stories. You don’t really do much else…

    You rely on the MSM. As much as bloggers sound off so hypocritically against the MSM they rely on it to feed the grist into the mill. They are dependent.

    The mainstream media is the reason that bloggers have become what they are – both the gadflies and the good ones. They don’t operate in a a vacuum and they actually have the exceptional privilage of not having to make the hard decisions on what is or what isn’t news or worth reporting, or the heavy weight of trying to report it correctly all of the time. Throw in the competitive nature of breaking a story and the result is both MSM reports and bloggers compete to get the story out there as fast as possible.

    The majority of bloggers are at best, symbiotic, so when bloggers sound off on how horribly wrong the mainstream media is, they really are just being a bunch of hypocritical, self-grinding axes.

  • sal m

    I don’t know how other blog sites are run, but I think editors on THIS site are in the process of holding those who post accountable for their stories.

    And if at this point bloggers and the MSM have a symbiotic relationship, so be it. As we move forward and as the MSM becomes less relevant, more prone to error and less objective this relationship will change from one of symbiosis to one of competition. As a matter of fact, blog sites like this one are already considered to be the rivals of the MSM.

    And if one is in a symbiotic relationship, being critical of ones partner does not by definition make one hypocritical. We – blogs and bloggers – exist because the MSN has lost its way.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Blogs exist more because each individual can control what’s there.

    This is no longer a blog site, it is a fully-fledged edited site. In its infancy, but still far from a blog and far from what most blogs are. Even the political ones exist to control.

    Don’t you tihnk the potential is far high er for blogs t lose their way if accuracy is the standard?

    i’ve always said the future direction will be judged by the readers. A voice like Aaman’s or Deano’s is refreshing to me personally because accuracy is important to me. Yet, I still realize some stories are like computers – garbage in, garbage out.

    You seem gleeful and stuck on an idea that blogs are the salvation. There are a whole heaping amount of great ones and many – as already stated – that do bring a refreshing perspective from different areas of the globe.

    Your approach is too simplistic. Will paper newspapers go away; yes more will. But the standards of journalism developed for a reason over the decades. Accuracy. Freshness. Storytelling.

    Frankly you don’t seem reliable on the subject of the demise of “big media” because of a very strong bias. Which, of course, you could rightly accuse me of as well. However, I’m both a newspapaer editor and a multi-site blogger so I can be consideed more objective perhaps. And the simple fact that I am more objective helps as well.

    Thanks for bringing the subject up; your’s had an ever so slight different edge from so many other bloggers who talk to each other and nod their heads and agree with each other they’re the best thing ever.

    Dumb op-ed columnists, of coursem who don’t appreciate the areas of blogtopia worth appreciating don’t help anyone, of course.

  • Sister Ray

    ClubStyleDJ, I don’t understand how “the almighty Dollar” is to blame for the erroneous reporting here. Newspapers and TV networks are for-profit businesses, but getting a story wrong won’t get them any more money. A non-profit medium could have gotten it wrong just as easily.

    Media companies have meetings about headlines, yes, just like any other business has meetings to make decisions about its product.

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    For the record, the word “media” is plural.

    Mr. Marinello, some blogs exist to provide a counterbalance to the MSM. Others exist for fun or self-expression or whatever. Some bloggers are wannabe journalists, some are real journalists, and some have no connection with journalism at all.

    The reporting of the mine disaster was flawed, but I think the media handled a confusing situation as best as they could – things just went really badly in this instance. Absolutely, there must be more effort in getting it right than in getting it first, but getting the story quickly *is* part of the equation. More than a quarter-century ago, as a student journo, I saw someting disturbing hanging on the wall of the radio newsroom where I was working. It was called the Reporter’s Prayer, and I will summarize it forthwith:

    “Let there be news
    Let there be fire, rape and murder…
    And by God, let us be first to get it on the air.”

    Disturbing it was, to me, in 1979. In 2006, the stakes are even higher for the media, and as we have seen too many times, the push to get it first sometimes trumps the desire to get it right. Extremely disturbing, to be sure. And let’s remember that sometimes even the most diligent do get it wrong despite their best efforts. I am probably more critical of the MSM than many of you, but I also know from personal experience that most reporters I know are all about getting it right. And we all know that no one is perfect.

    My prayers are for the families and to the coal company *and* to the hardworking, ethical journalists who really did work to get it right, even if in this case they failed. Let’s hope we all can learn something from this heartwrenching catastrophe.

  • sal m

    i don’t have an axe to grind with the MSM in the sense that i WANT to see it disappear or that i WANT to tear it down. if things continue along the way they are going with newspapers and network and “cable” news stations, what people have traditionally considered to be the MSM will cease to exist with no help from me or any other blogger. and who knows what will take the place of the MSM?

    to say that i have a bias is unfair, in that it implies that i have taken a position without regard for facts or circumstances which have given me the reason to state my opposition to much of what the MSM stands for. by claiming that i have a bias – and am not entitled to think poorly of the MSM – you try make my criticisms illegitimate or less valid.

    on the contrary, my feelings towards the media are based on the things that members of the MSM have done over these past years…the mess at the New York Times, plagarism scandals (most recently at the Baltimore Sun)loss of objectivity, and sloppiness like we witnessed in this mine story.

    and perhaps i’m speaking out of turn, and the owners of this site can weigh in on the subject, but knowing how things are run at this site, the owners realize that blogs must evolve from their infancy state or blogs will just become meaningless background chatter or be the answer to a trivia question in a few years.

    this blog is evolving, and has embraced standards like accuracy, freshness and story telling.

    my approach IS simplistic. the MSM is foundering, this is why sites like ours exist.

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    I would be curious your take on my position on this media mess, which I posted here

  • Nancy

    Agreed, Sal: the MSM is losing its credibility (or has already lost it) because of its own perceived scandals (especially with Miller & Woodward) and image of being willing shills for the administration or various other special interest parties. As someone once observed, a reputation is as fragile & vulnerable as a piece of lace, and once damaged, is not easily or quickly repaired.

  • sal m

    nancy:
    well put…during my time in school when i was a journo major and later on when i joined the work force in a sales and marketing capacity i was taught that it’s not bad to sometimes say “i don’t know, but i’ll find out” rather than to BS and be wrong…this way – when you get the right answers – people will think of you as both a resource AND a source of information…and once you BS and are wrong, it’s tough to regain people’s trust.

  • Scott Butki

    Sal, you need to go read my post because your accustion that the media dropped the ball really doesn’t hold water. As Temple said you’re just repeating an allegation. The fact it’s your first paragraph makes me even more alarmed and frustrated.

  • Scott Butki

    Damn. Let me try to do that link again.

    Come join the discussion at my column my column, along with some new links

  • sal m

    scott, the link to your comment didn’t work…

    here’s an excerpt written by a reporter,

    “The Washington Post story by Ann Scott Tyson, which appeared on the front page, opened: “A dozen miners trapped 12,000 feet into a mountainside since early Monday were found alive Tuesday night just hours after rescuers found the body of a 13th man, who had died in an explosion in an adjacent coal mine that was sealed off in early December.

    Later in the story, she even added this explanation: “The miners had apparently done what they had been taught to do: barricaded themselves in a pocket with breathable air and awaited rescue.”

    why would you be alarmed with my position that some people should lose their jobs as a result of how this story was handled?

    the “explanantion” provided by this writer is clearly made up as there is no attribution whatsoever. and an editor allowed this to go into print.

    i would think that you’d be concerned with why this writer wrote what she did.

  • Scott Butki

    Ok, does this link work? Try it again please.

    The coal mining company admits it knew people were celebrating and there was jubilation and the governor even told the media miracles do happen.

    What would make a reporter think it’s not true?

    The lack of attribution isn’t the issue – the infomration given out that was wrong is the issue. And the one making that mistake – giving out bad info adn then not correcting it quicklywhen realizing it was wrong – was the coal mining compay.

    The reporter what was being told to them. Should she have done better sourcing? Sure. But should she be fired for writing what they were told was true at that point? Heck no.

    If anyone should be fired it’s the coal mining p.r. person who didn’t immediately correct the problem.

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    Sal? Anyone? Nothing like making what I thought was a good point only to see it not responded to.

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Scott, welcome on blogcritics – we all have spurted forth fine musings only to see them pretty much lead-weighted pellets sinking below the surface of the electron sea

  • sal m

    scott:
    you have your opinion i have mine…this was my opinion piece and i think it’s sloppy reporting regardless of what the reporter was told by the mining pr person…and not to mention the editorial decisions that led to the blaring headlines…too bad these reporters didn’t maintain the level of skepticism they display when dealing with certain political issues.

    and this item is also meant to point out the difference between what some members of the MSM have done and in turn how some bloggers responded. another point was that – in my opinion – bloggers should not try to do the same thing MSM’ers do. we should question and/or add to what the MSM does, not parrot it.

  • IgnatiusReilly

    I’m still not clear how the reporting was sloppy. They were given the information and reported it. Found out it was wrong and corrected it immediately. Unless you’re a family member, I don’t see how you were negatively affected over the course of a few hours. No one should lose their job. You sound like someone who has no idea how TV or journalism works.

    Who are you to tell people how or why they should blog? You do what you like and others do what they like. That’s the whole point of people having their own blog.

  • sal m

    ah the beauty of an opinion piece…

    feel free to write a piece telling all of us how tv and journalism works, i’m sure it would be a very populuar feature on the site.

    and my opinion – there’s that pesky word again -was that bloggers should try to offer something different than they can find in the MSM…and people can blog to their hearts content in any way they choose, but it’s clear that if blogging is ever going to get past the stage of infancy people will have to evolve past stream of conciousness and/or just parroting news and views already available.

  • Scott Butki

    Yes but if you are going to use a word like sloppy why not elaborate when pressed?it’s not like we’ve interrupted a private conversation you were having.

    For a fresh excellent look at what happened that nite read Derek Rose’s blog

  • sal m

    scott:
    thanks for the link…interesting but not much more…

    if you need more elaboration with regards to how the media was sloppy i don’t think that you’ve been paying much attention to the critical analysis that has been going on since the media blew the coverage on the story.

    there’s no need for me to repeat every apology that has been issued and every criticism that has been leveled, but the word “sloppy” applies here in every sense of the word. and not just by print media.

    for god sakes, rita crosby told viewers that the survivors were sipping water! whomever came up with that anectdote should be fired, as it is obviously made up.

    from all accounts there have only been four sources verified that were used by journalists for the story, the governor, family members, a congresswoman and a state official, none of whom had first hand knowlege of the story.

    people who were responsible for going to press with these stories have said themselves that basic tennets of journalism were violated.

    covering this story from the emotional angle – getting caught up in the celebration – is the epitome of sloppiness.

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    So the tv reporters should just say, “Oh, the bells are rining which usually indicate good news but we don’t want to rush to judgement so we’ll just act like the families are not jubilant”?

  • sal m

    tv reporters should have said something along the lines of what actually was the case…something along the lines of “the bells are ringing but we have no confirmation as to what they are ringing for.” they shouldn’t ignore the families jubilation, but they shouldn’t get caught up in, or let their judgement be affected by it. are they serious journalists or correspondents for entertainment tonight?

    they are there to report and not to cheer. there was no reason for the reporters to not be skeptical.

    reporters frequently don’t take the word of the president’s spokesperson, so why should they have taken the word of people obviously so less credible?

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    tv reporters should have said something along the lines of what actually was the case…something along the lines of “the bells are ringing but we have no confirmation as to what they are ringing for.”

    Ok, so let’s see, the reporters should leave out the part about how bells being rung like do not usually mean bad news?

    And when they get confirmation from family members that they have been told the good news, that should not be included nor be considered confirmation?

    Same with the governor – when he told them miracles do happen that should also have been either left out or not considered confirmation?

    You probably think i’m nitpicking but Temple and I and maybe others reading used to deal with getting confirmation and attribution accurately all the time.
    Yes, you get multiple confirmations – if you get a report from the president, from a bell tower, whatever you go get other sources.
    And they did – they talked to families, the governor and everyone else available to them.

    What should they have done at that point?

  • Anthony Grande

    I blame Bush for not making sure that the mine was reinforced enough and I also blame Bush for the following media disaster.

    These are both impeachable crimes.

  • sal m

    i dont understand why you are having such a hard time understanding my point. a reporter’s job is to report what they know, not what they may know, or think that they know. nor is it their job to get caught up in the hysteria, jubilation or other emotions that could cloud judgement.

    the reporters used the jubilation of the families as confirmation of their information, which was a huge mistake and is indicative of sloppiness.

    they reporters on the scene had no independent confirmation as to anything that they were being told.

    they could have reported anything that they wanted to, including that little, burrowing mine-dwelling creatures aided in the rescue effort, but they should have made it abundantly clear that there was no way to confirm if there were any survivors or any other detail of this story.

    and if you are so interested in picking nits, why don’t you care about how ms crosby came to include the anecdote about the survivors drinking water in her report?