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After the Rescue: Press Coverage, PR and the Chilean Mine Miracle

By on Friday, October 15, 2010

The world rejoiced in the miraculous rescue of 33 miners in Chile this week that sparked round-the-clock news coverage of the “miracle in San Jose.” While the media facilitated worldwide viewership and brought a global family together to root and pray for the miners and their safe return to the surface, there are also reports that they engaged in excessive behavior to get the story. And some have said that celebritizing the mine disaster like a reality TV show, has caused other problems in Chile to evaporate from the headlines.

Euronews reported that there were as many 1,700 reporters at Camp Hope the night of the rescue. In “As media circus wanes, Chile miners’ families turn spotlight on reporters’ antics,” Steven Bodzin of the Christian Science Monitor describes how the families felt about the media’s behavior.

“It’s not that we hate the press,” Juan Hermosillo, uncle of miner Carlos Barrios, said earlier in the day. “If the press hadn’t been here who knows, maybe none of this would have happened,” he said, gesturing at the $15 million rescue effort’s drills, cranes, and helicopters.

But the media excesses were obvious. Cameramen so stubbornly kept their shot that they wouldn’t move aside to let family members gather and celebrate the final rescue. When the first miner was rescued and reunited with his family, reporters caused the tents to collapse in their rush for photos of tears.

Families who had never sought fame were suddenly scrutinized like reality TV stars. One miner, whose wife and girlfriend both went to the mine to support him, has been the subject of stories at home and abroad speculating on his future.

The miners reportedly received limited media training by closed-circuit television while still trapped underground. But what about their families who were waiting amid a sea of hundreds of raucous reporters?

All too often, families going through trauma are subjected to bad behavior by reporters hell-bent on getting the story and under pressure to generate sound bytes and copy.

At the same time, some of the blame for reporter excess should be passed on to the Chilean government and its media wranglers, which made a point of accommodating media access at the site.

Some of the fingers being pointed at the media for bad behavior, could also be pointed at public relations staff. One can’t really blame the media for acting as they are trained to do. The reality is – it is public relations staff (backed up by security if needed when dealing with so many reporters and such a large site) who can provide structure and prevent families from being disappointed or hurt.

Of course, it’s possible that a plan by public relations staff for greater structure and order fell apart due to circumstances at the site. I would hope that PR people committed to the public interest, would both assist families in sharing their stories, and provide structure to prevent media coverage from hurting the families and hindering the story as it unfolded.

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