The poor reporting of the trapped miners story is big news on the blogosphere today. I think that this interpretation of events is spot-on. Chances are someone overheard a radio transmission via a police scanner and misunderstood the meaning. They proceeded to spread the news locally and the media irresponsibly picked it up and ran with it before bothering to verify that it was correct.
This scenario rings true. I listen to radio scanners a lot, and have for about 10 years. As Rodger says, police scanners have been a part of rural life for decades. It’s a great way to stay informed and makes for very interesting listening, but it must be understood as raw and potentially unreliable information. The persons on-scene are obliged to report what they know when they know it, and then make corrections or updates as they can. It’s usually up to the folks back at HQ to put it all together and get an accurate picture of the whole situation.
It’s also difficult to understand these sorts of conversations. You get conflicting info from multiple people and agencies on-scene. You hear chatter between people with radios who know nothing more than the typical bystander. You get bits and pieces of multiple incidents that are easily confused. Police and rescue workers also know they’re being listened to and therefore deliberately omit or obscure certain details on the public airwaves. For example, they usually use jargon for indicating fatalities (locally you hear "Priority 4" meaning "really no rush", or "10-96" which officially means something like "non-functional equipment").
It’s easy to understand why a private citizen might have misunderstood an overheard transmission. It’s less easy for me to understand why the media didn’t catch it and get confirmation before rushing it to print. But do you know where reporters get a lot of their news? That’s right – police scanners. There were probably reporters and news agencies with scanners right there at the rescue operation listening in. too. And they should know as well as anyone how to interpret and weigh that source of information.
Ultimately it’s the media’s job to check facts before reporting, and they just didn’t do it. There was no reason to rush the headline into print and every reason to double check first. I’m not angry with them so much as disappointed in their lack of professionalism. They have a lot to answer for.