12 miners dead, 1 alive

I gasped when I opened up my newspaper this morning and the top headline proclaimed in huge bold letters '12 miners found alive.' Then I flipped the TV from 'Sportscenter' over to the 'Today Show' ... still too amazed to realize what Matt Lauer was talking about. Finally, I took a doubletake at my newspaper again and then at the headline at the bottom of the TV screen: '12 of 13 miners dead.'

Somebody goofed.

Big time.

In a lot of ways.

Little did I know, my first look at the newspaper I work for was only the beginning, however. ... On the drive to work, Chicago radio stations were discussing the same scenario. The Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times had proclaimed the miners alive. And when I arrived at work, additional regional papers sat on the desk with bold headlines saying "They're Alive!" ... Virtually all the newspapers in the central and eastern time zones, even USA Today and The New York Times, hit their press times last night, splashing the front pages with jubilant headlines ...

Then the truth came out. And in one of those rare 'Dewey Defeats Truman' moments, we all looked foolish ... I sat in our newsroom this morning amid an editor that was clearly frustrated, and overheard a part of the conversation between him and our publisher about what our paper was doing to fix it. Meanwhile, our newsroom receptionist is answering the repeated phone calls from readers who don't understand that we were printing the most current information we had as of midnight last night and have no clue that hundreds of newspapers made the same mistake. To one caller, our receptionist said, 'Believe me, we're as sick about this as anyone.'

The initial -- incorrect -- story hit the wires around 11:30 p.m. The corrected story didn't arrive until after like 2 a.m. -- hours after our newsroom had been cleared for the night. ... Still -- here I was putting on my own editor hat -- thinking about the ways we needed to fix it and the ways we could've done better. As journalists, we're taught and retaught to check and double-check our facts. Admittedly, most of the first-edition stories I saw this morning were pretty thin and lacked any real official mining sources confirming the miners were indeed alive. And why did the headlines have to be so bold, so emphatic? ... Wouldn't '12 miners found' have been better than '12 miners found alive'? ... this link at Poynter gives some interesting explanation and examples of newspapers that did it right and those that did it wrong ...

So maybe we all goofed. ... Needless to say tomorrow's editions will likely be littered with editor explanations of exactly what happened in our newsrooms ...

a USA Today: Media forced to explain inaccurate reports on tragedy
a Kansas City Star: Misinformation about miners resulted in early headlines, late-night fixes
a Akron Beacon Journal: Newspapers left to explain headlines proclaiming miners' rescue
a LA Times: How Did the Media Get It So Wrong?
a Arizona Daily Star: Correct bulletin misses deadline by minutes, misinformation reported

More about the mining disaster...
a Official apologizes to families in mine tragedy
a Miracle vanishes on a dank and miserable night

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