Media Circus at the Chilean Mine

What are some dos and don’ts for the scrum?

The story of 33 men trapped underground in a mine in Chile has captivated the entire world, for good reason: it’s a disaster story that’s not a disaster. After living underground for more than two months, they are scheduled to be freed tonight, to be reunited with their families who have been holding vigil since the collapse. It’s an inspirational story of survival that seems made for a movie script.

So the media frenzy isn’t surprising, but perhaps the scope of it is. The AP reported on Monday that 150 news organizations with 750 journalists have been accredited at a police checkpoint near the mine. Thanks to the area’s narrow dirt roads and distant amenities, journalists “have suffered at least 17 accidents while speeding along these roads.” Meanwhile, the miners themselves have apparently been bracing themselves for the spotlight awaiting them at the surface: the men have drawn up a legal contract ensuring that they will all benefit equally from the interview, book and movie deals they’ve already been offered, and they specifically requested media training while still underground.

In the midst of such a media circus, how can news organizations responsibly report this story? What are some dos and don’ts for reporters and television and radio producers on the ground? Feel free to share any stories you have of covering a high-profile event like this. What are the rules of the road here?

Update, Tuesday afternoon: the AP is now putting the number of journalists at the mine site at “upwards of a thousand.”

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.