The recent coal mining tragedies of Sago, W. Va. involving an explosion caused by disputed factors has caused an uproar against the mining company, the governor and the news media.
Understandably, the families and friends of 11 miners who were unable to escape the toxic gases became enraged when they were told that their loved ones were dead, several hours after they were all confirmed alive.
With such a devastating miscommunication, blame was immediately directed toward the many different messengers.
Television and Internet news have managed to avoid much of the fallout because of their ability to instantly correct the mistake.
The print press has suffered unfair criticisms because it’s so much harder to correct.
Ultimately, no form of media should be overly criticized because of their reliance on high-ranking officials as sources.
When Gov. Ben Hatfield announced that all of the trapped miners were alive, there was no option for print news other than to run the story.
Some critics have said that the media should have hounded the governor more, asking him how exactly he got this information. This line of inquiry would have achieved nothing. Hatfield would have explained that the rescue workers inside the mine confirmed this fact, which, in his mind, was true and the basis for the miscommunication.
In fact, if anyone is to blame, it should be Hatfield, who swore to stand by the families of the miners and give them any updates. Shouldn’t he have confirmed his facts with rescue officials before making the announcement?
In fact, Hatfield and everyone around him, as well as those who were in direct communication with the rescuers, were convinced that the miners were alive.
One of the reasons that the families went on believing that the miners were alive for so long was because the mining company and Hatfield wanted to know exactly what the situation was before possibly misinforming the families again.
This may have seemed cruel to the families, letting them stay ecstatic for as long as they did, but this course of action was actually the most intelligent. Hatfield should have initially taken such precautions before announcing to the families and media what he thought was to be the truth.
In addition, the print media operates on a deadline in order to get the newspapers printed and distributed in a timely fashion. A story such as this was a front-page piece for many papers, which further puts pressure to get the facts as quickly as possible.
Certainly, this unfortunate situation is indicative of a larger problem: the safety violations and response quality of the mine.
Over the course of two years, 273 safety violations were reported. Within the past eight months, 16 violations were reported and classified as ‘unwarrantable failures,’ meaning that they were infractions of which the operator had already been notified or which showed extreme indifference or lack of care.
If safety had truly been the priority of the coal mine management, not only would the tragedy perhaps been prevented, but in the event of an unavoidable tragedy, a quicker, less chaotic escape or rescue plan could have been carried out.
Instead of dwelling on the miscommunication and the reporting that resulted from it, citizens should turn their attention to what is most important: to prevent something like this from happening again.
Ultimately, the print media was not really at fault, but took a beating anyway, as it was reminded that even reliable sources make serious mistakes.
But how can this be argued if everyone except the rescuers truly believed the miners were alive? The best the media can do, print or otherwise, is use the best possible information available to them, which is what took place.
What should be taken away from this situation is how the public perceives news. Stop taking the news as definitive fact and realize that it is, in fac,t a human-run institution.
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Filed Under: Opinion