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February 16, 2006

Media discuss coverage of the Sago Mine explosion

MORGANTOWN, W.V. — "There's only one," Lynette Roby, a Tallmansville, W.Va. resident, told Anderson Cooper live on CNN at 2:46 in the morning Jan. 4.



She had just broken the news to the world. Joyous reports that the men trapped in the Sago Mine for more than 40 hours had been found alive were completely wrong. What the journalists, the families and country had believed for three hours wasn't true. Cooper appeared stunned. So was CNN correspondent Randi Kaye.



That night, outside the Sago Baptist Church in Tallmansville, she was listening to Cooper's interview with Roby through an ear piece.



"I heard this unfolding on our air and I must have said something out loud because there was a print photographer standing beside me and he said, 'Did you just say what I think you said?' and I said, 'I think there's only one alive,'" Kaye told a packed crowd at the Mountainlair Ballrooms at West Virginia University Monday night.



"Then one of our producers was screaming in my ear, 'Get confirmation. Get confirmation,'" Kaye said.



Something had gone horribly wrong. For hours, family members believed their loved ones were alive. Eighty percent of the country's newspapers ran wrong headlines that morning, according to the Poynter Institute's Kelly McBride.



In "Searching for a Miracle: Media Coverage of the Sago Mine Disaster," national and regional journalists came to WVU Monday as part of the school's "Festival of Ideas" lecture series to talk about their experiences in Tallmansville and sometimes defend their role in spreading false information.



McBride, Poynter's ethics group leader, moderated the discussion.



"I want to acknowledge that there's a lot of anger and frustration about how things unfolded that night in the media," McBride said. "We're not going to fix that. This isn't a witch hunt."

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