Mine Disaster

I remember the first time it became crystal clear to me that newspapers would eventually be getting out of the breaking news business. It was at the outset of the 1991 Gulf War when America was bleary-eyed from watching Saddam's scud launches on CNN into the wee hours of the morning. By the time the morning paper landed on the doorstep, it was several crucial hours behind what you knew when you had gone to bed.

And so it is with the cruel twist of fate that had many newspapers reporting the apparent great news that 12 miners were found alive in W. Virginia -- my Globe page 1 head was "Jubilation in W. Va," my Herald splash was the very apt (at the time) "Miner Miracle." Unfortunately, by the time we all work up this morning, we learned the much sadder news.

But according to this story  in Editor & Publisher on how papers got caught in chasm between joy and grief, Globe editor Marty Baron said his paper -- by tossing out some 30,000 editions with the wrong story -- managed to get it right in about 50,000 final edition copies.

I can remember writing a page 1 Globe story on the infamous election night 2000 when America first elected Gore, then nobody, then Bush, then nobody. I believe I wrote five different editions of that story that night and can remember -- after finally having gone home at about 4 a.m. and consumed a large Scotch -- having a kindly editor read me the final rewrite while I begged him to please make sure that whatever finally showed up on porches that morning "would be in English." (I don't believe I ever bothered to read that final version for fear of what it contained.)

There is no real moral to the bizarre and tragic coal mining story other than the most obvious one. Technologically speaking, printed newspapers, for all their agility and energy, are a pony express in an age of supersonic information.

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