When I pulled out of my garage for the 25-minute drive to work, I was startled to hear the radio announcer refer to the “tragedy in West Virginia.” What? I asked myself.  Wasn’t there good news the night before about trapped coal miners?

Turns out the reports the night before were wrong. Instead of 12 of 13 men being rescued alive, most of them perished in a carbon-monoxide-filled mine shaft.

How could that be? Didn’t the cable-news channels tell us they had been rescued?

Even the newspapers were wrong. USA Today’s headline on Jan. 4 read, “12 miners found alive.” And, the text of the USA Today article went on to say that the men had been taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital for examination.

How could that be?

I figured the news media had been fed overly optimistic reports from mining officials. After all, aren’t they supposed to report information from reliable sources?

Well, in retrospect, the news media should have checked and double-checked their facts more aggressively.

I am sometimes leery of being known as a “media” person. I am quick to point out that I am different from some others in the media:

  • I try to help my readers find constructive solutions to problems.
  • I really care about accuracy.

My obsession with accuracy goes back a long ways. As a cub reporter for a college newspaper, I attended a lecture where a reference was made to a nationally known radical activist. I thought the activist had been charged or convicted of murder, so I wrote that into my story. When it was pointed out to me the next day — after the story was published — that the activist had not been charged or convicted of murder, I spent the next several days worrying that I might be sued for libel. (The chances of a nationally known radical activist going after a college newspaper were pretty remote, and we did publish a correction, but I was worried anyway.)

It was a good learning experience. Good aversive therapy.

After graduation, I spent four years as a reporter at a daily newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D., and had two published corrections in four years. Not bad, considering corrections were published on items as minor as misspelled names.

As editor of Dairy Herd Management, I have always insisted that we send advance-checking copies of articles to our sources so the sources can check for accuracy. The sources appreciate it, and the feedback we receive is often an opportunity to make our stories even better before they go to press. 

That is not to say we are perfect, but we do try really hard to get our facts straight.