Wednesday, January 04, 2006


For morning newspapers, there really couldn't have been a worse time for it to happen -- it being the stunning flip-flop of news from a West Virginia coal mine.

After a day of increasingly somber news briefings from mine officials, and the discovery of one body, no one would have been surprised by news that everyone in the mine had perished.

At 10:48 p.m. Central time on Tuesday bells started ringing at a church where family members of 13 trapped miners took refuge. Within two minutes, CNN was reporting that 12 of the 13 miners were alive. MSNBC and Fox weren't far behind.

Most morning newspapers were preparing to print their first editions.

As GrfxGawd notes in a previous post, the media confounded its critics and splashed Good News across the front pages of many newspapers. USA TODAY and the Springfield News-Leader printed (at least) some editions with what seemed like a well-sourced story about a miracle. To its credit, the News-Leader used a hed that attributed the good news to family members.

Put yourself in the place of the editor putting the newspaper to bed. This is news that broke after the 10 p.m. local casts. You're able to get the story together, rework the front page and deliver fresh news to most morning readers. You should feel proud of a job well done.

At 1:47 a.m. Wednesday, shouts of joy turned to screams of agony. There was no miracle in West Virginia.

By now the morning newspapers were already running off presses and into waiting vehicles. Too late to recall the mistake. Feelings of pride are replaced by a tsunami of nausea.

This is no "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment. There the pollsters and editors had already decided that Thomas Dewey would crush Harry Truman; the headline in the Chicago newspaper was a statement of arrogance and false certainty. In the case of the mine rescue that wasn't, the headlines were proof that journalists, like all good humans, have hope in their hearts.

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