Chron: erroneous miner story was a "pardonable sin"

Yesterday Chronicle Reader Representative James Campbell explained how the paper's goofed-up miner story was most certainly a forgivable error:

But if there is such a thing as a pardonable news media sin, this story offers the example. Granting a pardon, however, requires readers to appreciate the circumstances surrounding this story.

Ideally, if news about the trapped miners being rescued alive had begun circulating Tuesday morning, we likely would not be engaging in this discussion.

The reporter at the scene would have remained optimistically skeptical about initial reports of their rescue, but more importantly, would have gone through the logical progressions of verifying the information and its source.

But reality bites. Word about the miners' rescue began circulating about 11 p.m. our time, perilously close to when the last Chronicle editor leaves around 1 a.m. each morning. The early edition of the Chronicle reported that one miner had been found dead. Then the story changed.

"When the initial, erroneous, news broke that 12 miners were alive, we changed the front page between editions," said Chronicle managing editor John Wilburn. "Three hours later, around 2 a.m. (CDT) when the correction info moved, the press run was almost complete and the newsroom had all gone home. It was too late to change the story." was one of the first Web sites in the country to post a corrected, updated version of the story.

Which, of course, is a perfect, PERFECT example of why the paper Chronicle is outdated and in a continuous state of declining circulation: The story never changed. The story always was that 12 miners died. The reporting was erroneous and IT changed, but not the story. Twelve miners didn't suddenly die between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

And yet the Chronicle wants us to know that while this kind of reporting is never acceptable, it is pardonable. Maybe the folks at the Chronicle think it's pardonable, but many readers probably won't agree and this example of the media getting it very wrong will stick with us for a long time.

Instead of explaining why this is a pardonable screw-up, the Chronicle should have followed the lead of some other newspapers and issued a flat-out apology for getting the story wrong and letting down its readers. Period.

KEVIN WHITED ADDS: That "the story changed" meme must be making the rounds down at 801 Texas Avenue. That's the same erroneous notion that one Chronicle features editor (incidentally, the same one who ducks legitimate questions about features reporters impersonating Katrina evacuees) floated with a question on our message board last week.

I don't know why it is so hard for some journalists to admit mistakes. Admirably, some editors have stood up and said they blew it. Locally, we get "the story changed." I understand that the Chronicle reader rep position institutionally is more of a PR position than anything else, but I still can't believe any self-respecting newsman (or newswoman) would commit "the story changed" excuse to print (or pixels). Campbell could have apologized for the mistake, explained the circumstances that led to the mistake, and vowed to do better in the future, and that would have been a fine column. Instead, the PR line at the Chronicle is that it was wrong, but not really. Laughable.

RELATED: Spokesman in Miner Tragedy Says He Never Confirmed Miracle Rescue (Editor & Publisher)

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 01/09/06 08:19 AM | Print |

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