Investigation: Papers Used Weak Sourcing on “Miners Alive” Stories
The good news: Editor & Publisher is aggressively pursuing the story of how so many newspapers botched the West Virginia mining tragedy. That this journal of the publishing industry is taking the screw-up seriously is an encouraging sign that there will be some accountability:
NEW YORK — As newspapers conduct damage control after early Wednesday’s error, in which most wrongly reported that 12 trapped miners had been rescued in West Virginia, many editors are defending their mistake by saying they were misled by various sources, including the state’s governor. Yet, even after extensive follow-up coverage today, serious questions about the sourcing, and its use, remain.
“AP was reporting accurately the information that we were provided by credible sources — family members and the governor,” AP managing editor Mike Silverman has said. “The mistake was not ours, it was the authorities at the scene,” Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of the Washington Post, told E&P Wednesday.
But what information actually came out during those fateful three hours, starting late Tuesday? Did reporters misinterpret what they heard or fail to raise doubts about credibility? What was most surprising in the many follow-up stories today was how few fresh details were added about sourcing — including any mention of a single new source not already identified. Despite repeated attempts by E&P to reach reporters at the scene, none have yet responded.
The bad news: Obviously, that the reporters involved are stonewalling and their editors are refusing to admit error for running such a consequential story with such weak sourcing.