When tragedy strikes, we cling to the news like a lifeline. It’s riveting, sickening, and addicting. And unfortunately, in the world of the 24 hour news hole, it’s increasingly speculative.
In the wake of yesterday’s I35W horrors, National Public Radio quoted an expert located far from the scene saying the incident may have been due to the swirling waters of the Mississippi eroding the footings. Meanwhile, CNN reported that the footings are all on land, and the resulting long length of unsupported steel decking may be the reason for the collapse.
Then CNN carried the interview of a Minnesota Senator saying the bridge was recently given a “clean bill of health.” Shortly thereafter, the Star Tribune reported that the inspection record concluded the bridge was “structurally deficient.”
All the while, WCCO-TV’s veteran anchor gave detailed explanations of the physics of the collapse, with seemingly no evidence or expertise whatsoever underpinning the claims.
Yesterday was a reminder of so many things — the cruelty of fate, the faith we put in infrastructure, the folly of taking loved ones for granted.
And it was also a reminder of the importance of steady journalism during difficult times. It was a reminder that it’s okay to wait for the facts and say “we don’t know yet” in the wake of disasters. Really. As much as people are pushing you to guess, don’t. Getting scooped is bad, but misleading is worse.
I realize folks are just trying to do their job under very difficult circumstances. But to victims’ loved ones desperately searching for answers, the speculation that is intended to be a salve for their wounds may feel more like salt.