What Can Education Writers Learn from the Mining Coverage Mishap?

The botched coverage of the miners' fates over the weekend has me wondering yet again about whether problems like this -- hopefully on a smaller scale -- are hidden in reporting about schools. Once again, I'm guessing that they do. We just don't hear about them.


As in the past (rapes in the SuperDome, etc.), many publications that got the story wrong are now hiding behind the "they told us it was true" defense. As in the past, this seems like a pretty thin explanation for getting it wrong, or for claiming that attributing the incorrect claims would be enough.

As Howie Kurtz puts it, "While the mining company's refusal to correct the misinformation for hours is inexplicable, the situation was exacerbated by the journalistic reluctance to say the facts are unconfirmed and we just don't know. Experienced journalists should have understood that early, fragmentary information in times of crisis is often wrong."

What makes the mining case particularly instructive is that, as with education news, few publications devote serious and ongoing attention to in-depth coverage to mine safety. Sure, there are lots of daily stories about schools, but not much of it is deep, and some of it is not particularly knowledgeable.

Others may have better ideas to guard against this type of mistake, but mine are simple: Make sure you know whether what you're being told is based on direct, first-hand information. Say so when it's not. Guard against being told stories that fit your preconceptions, or fit your source's agenda. Anything I'm missing?

News to Read: A Failure to look deeper Washington Post
Previous Posts: "Hurricane Reporting" in Education?


Blogger Josh said...

Come on, Alex. When the governor announces that they're alive, you go with that. Would you want to have two reporters go down into the mine to get visual confirmation before reporting what the governor said?

If the story were based on hearsay from some miner's wife, then there'd be a point here. But when the government official in charge of a rescue scene announces at a press conference "They told us they have 12 alive," you go with that.

This all just feels like the media's masochistic love for self-flagellation.

11:19 AM  

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