Tragic rumour

“Get it first” is one of the main tenets of journalism. This is especially true in large markets where several daily newspapers compete with each other—and local radio and TV stations—to break a story.
Toss in 24-hour news channels and the Internet and that cutthroat competition has been taken a step further, giving people access to “news as it happens” around the clock.
It’s also a recipe for disaster.
That was the tragic case last night when CNN first began reporting the “breaking news” that 12 of the 13 miners trapped in a coal mine in West Virginia since Monday morning had been found alive. There was endless footage of jubilation and countless interviews with ecstatic relatives while they awaited the “official” news conference.
Many major newspapers also were quick to jump on the “news,” trumpeting the “miracle” in this morning’s editions—before the real story unfolded that, in fact, 12 of the 13 had died, with the lone survivor in critical condition in hospital at last report.
“Miscommunication” is being blamed for this terrible chain of events. Apparently, people had overhead cell phone calls that rescuers had “found” the miners and, somehow, that nugget of information snowballed into word they had been found alive.
In a nutshell, it was a rumour, which the media then fuelled in its blind pursuit of getting the story first.
Rumours always have presented a challenge to the media—whether it’s “60 Minutes” or the N.Y. Times. The same holds true right here in Fort Frances, where, for instance, everyone “knows” the mill is going to close for good any day now. Or that a grocery chain has purchased property along King’s Highway near Wal-Mart and a new pizza franchise will be opening soon on Scott Street.
It’s the media’s responsibility to separate fact from fiction—before going to print or air. All too often, though, the drive to break the story tramples the second major tenet of journalism: get it right.