Thursday, January 05, 2006

Print newspapers get the miner story wrong! - Where was the fact checking?

The Wilmington Delaware News Journal wasn't the only newspaper to get the headline wrong yesterday when they misreported that twelve miners were found alive in the West Virginia mine - because they didn't check their facts. I am glad I posted a picture of the newspaper with the incorrect headline, because the electronic media has a nasty habit of updating itself and erasing all evidence.

The mistake gives the national press a chance to do a story on themselves ( a story on the story, or meta-story) and they certainly love to do that. At least the Gainesville Sun Online attempts to figure out how it occurred.
Miscommunication among rescue workers reportedly led to families being told the miners were alive, leading to a celebration with the West Virginia governor and newspapers going to press with reports they had been saved.

Journalism experts differed on whether the error was an honest mistake or evidence of reporters failing to properly check their facts.
Gal Beckerman of CJRDaily, a media critic, brokes no excuses for the reporters who failed to check the sources of information for the incorrect reports that the miners had survived their ordeal. I love his criticism of an incorrect Washington Post article about the situation:
...The article continues in full speculation mode, adding in the fourth paragraph that "the miners had apparently done what they had been taught to do: barricaded themselves in a pocket with breathable air and awaited rescue."

All untrue -- but written with stunning confidence.
There is a lot of overblown hype these days surrounding blogging and its perceived competition with the "professional" press. Sometimes there is the suggestion that blogs are the quick good source for news and there is applause for the speed with which a large group of unconnected people can dig up facts and break a story. Often there is just the opposite, that bloggers don't have to check their sources and can publish innuendo and rumors that the regular press can't. The "voting" process of blogger checking blogger is actually a good mechanism to pull the facts out of a breaking story, on the other hand, the press are supposed to check the facts themselves. Even the flap about some wrong information in Wikipedia fails against the overwhelming evidence that Wikipedia usually gets it right.

If an incorrect story like this goes out to soon without the proper checks in place, what is the advantage of the press vs. a reliable weblog?

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