Sago & Geraldo–A Victim or Bad Journalism?

UPDATED: Perhaps this is off the mark of this blog, but…Blogs are often attacked by big media for unprofessionalism. But nothing is sadder than the professionals closing ranks to pretend that they are not at fault for massive failure.

I just saw FOX’s Geraldo Rivera say that (paraphrase) “the media were victims” at the Sago mine story.

What? WHAT? Because you ran with a life or death story without CONFIRMING IT?

The NYT’s take: note all the sources of “they’re alive” are folks who heard it from folks. Did the reporter face anybody official and ask the question: Is this 100%?

Many editors are defending their wrong headlines….

But one tiny local WV paper held back, in part because they could not confirm story. (They were an afternoon paper, as well, so were not under as much pressure to publish fast). Pulitzer, please? Here is the editor explaining what good journalism is all about:

“I feel lucky that we are an afternoon paper and we have the staff that we do,” said editor Linda Skidmore, who has run the 21-person newsroom for three years. “We had a reporter there all night at the scene and I was on the phone with her the whole time.”
Skidmore adds that her staff never believed the miners had been found alive because no official word was ever given. She said no update about miners being found alive ever appeared on the paper’s Web site, either.
“I was on the phone with her and I was hearing things on CNN and FOX that she was not hearing there,” Skidmore said about reporter Becky Wagoner. “She heard that the miners were alive just before it was broadcast, around midnight. She talked about hearing church bells ringing and people yelling in jubilation–but nothing official.”
Wagoner, a seven-year veteran of the paper, told E&P she had been covering the story since it broke Monday, and took a photograph at the site that was widely carried by national news outlets. She said rumors about the miners being found alive began circulating at 11:00 p.m. last night, with broadcast reports beginning at about midnight. “We heard that they were found alive through CNN, then it snowballed to ABC, then FOX and it was like a house afire,” recalled Wagoner, who said she was at the media information center set up by the mine’s operators, International Coal Group Inc., when the reports spread.
“A lot of the media left to go to the church where family members were located, but I stayed put because this was where every official news conference was given–and we never got anything official here,” she said. “Something was not right. Then we were hearing reports that 12 ambulances had gone in [to the mine area] but only one was coming out. There was so much hype that no one considered the fact that there was no [official] update.”

People who live in glass towers should not cast stones: big media commits all the sins they accuse blogs of…Interesting that entire media circus of “man trapped in a mine” was critiqued in the early days of television in a movie, “Ace in the Hole” by the great Billy Wilder.

Here is CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s “Behind the Scenes” non-apologia. Note that it never occurs to him to turn off the camera, do more journalism, then get back on the air with actual news. The ethos to keep shooting, keep live, keep the drama going is too pressing.

Major problem, is when you have 24 hours to fill, you have to hype up everything, all the time, and you rush to put up anything that might boost rating for the next hour. As TV Squad put it: “They all do it, in all situations, because they all have to be live from the scene and get the news before their competitors do.”

Who can fault the way David “BadEagle” Yeagley puts it: “Miscommunication, indeed. Sounds like routine mass communication to me.”

Originally posted January 4, 2006 at PolicyByBlog

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