To: The Mainstream News Media
From: A Former Reporter/Current News Junkie
Re: Getting a bad rap
The news media is under fire and, for a nice change, it’s not deserving of the criticism.
The charge: Getting the story of the miners wrong – claiming some survived, who actually perished.
Many newspapers reported this morning that 12 coal miners were alive when it turned out they were not.
The problem with the charge: It’s neither fair nor accurate.
The news stories in today’s newspapers quote not just one source or two but multiple ones, including the governor.
A news story is only as good as its sources and if the governor is giving out bad information how is the news media supposed to know better?
So yes the story was wrong but the fault was not that of the newspapers but those providing the bad information, as the Chicago Tribune explains in this article.
Several major newspapers stopped the presses to change the story but many others did not do so.
As Editor and Publisher reports, the coal company knew the reporters of survivors were wrong 20 minutes after the information was released but did not correct the bad data.
This is not to say the news media is perfect. Far from it.
The latest big media figure to get in trouble is Baltimore Sun columnist Michael Olesker, who quit after allegedly copying material from other newspapers. He was a columnist for the Sun for 27 years.
But this mining allegation is just bogus. Blaming the news media for reporting the news as they knew it misses the point of the profession.
Reporters and editors did their job and are now getting in trouble for reporting the new. Editors at some newspapers tried to explain to readers what went wrong.
It will be interesting the next few days to see how much people will spin to try to blame the news media for the coal company’s failings. Media analysis of the situation is already going on at Poynter Online’s always excellent Internet site.
And you can expect to see hand-wringing about how newspapers and bloggers – which would include some writing here – were too quick to report the news which turned out to literally be too good to be true.
But that’s missing the point. The problem is not how rapidly the news was disseminated but that the news given out was wrong.
And that’s always bad news.
Your constant reader
P.S. Don’t forget to see if you were one of those receiving Christmas presents from me to media figures.