The Associated Press in Traffic Hunt, Inspired by Mine Tragedy

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Tragedy stroke West Virginia, where 25 miners died in a Massey Energy Co. (Upper Big Branch mine, 30 miles south of Charleston, in Raleigh County) coal mine explosion, the worst mining accident in the US in the past 25 years. The Associated Press, one of the most reliable sources of information there is, reported the news, with in-depth details, as they always do. Yet this was not enough. Apparently, when tragedy strikes people have the tendency to dig more, to learn details about other similar tragedies, to gain all possible information about all deaths that occurred along the years in mining accidents. And The Associated Press complied.

Fearing that the journalists are not skilled enough to do their own homework and answer correctly to questions like “were there other similar accidents in the US” and “how many died in the past, where and when,” the prestigious press association run over at the United States Department of Labor, Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) and basically copied some of the information published there, releasing a typical “all rights reserved” AP communique. No big deal, you’ll probably say.

In fact, it is a big deal. First, it was not AP’s place to put together such a list. If a list was needed, the best entity to release it to the media, free of charge, under a GNU license, is the very MSHA, the source of AP’s information. The MSHA is the main source, yet AP doesn’t have the courtesy even to cite it, writing “AP archives, federal mining safety statistics” as the source instead.

Then, we have the “all rights reserved” issue, AP’s power over the media. To quote 5 – 25 words from this article would cost $12.50 for profits, and $7.50 for non-profits. If you want to quote more, you have to pay more, naturally. If you want to publish the article for a whole year, that will cost you $750.00 no less. Nothing against paying the price, if the information wouldn’t be copied from the MSHA. The question is, how much did the AP pay the MSHA for the facts?

So ask yourself, why would The Associated Press publish such a list? My answer is: to capitalize on a search trend. Every publication that runs a free AP communique makes them money – since all free articles have to feature AP ads.

So if you want to know how many mine disasters were in the US, and to inform your readers, your source should be MSHA, that lists here all accidents with five or more fatalities, since 1970. For details about these accidents, you can trust Wikipedia.

As far as AP is concerned, they should be focusing on other news. They should be telling us: what has been done for the families of the victims, is there anything the public can do for them? News with a human face, rather than painful statistics for gain, this is what the readers expect from the Associated Press. Yet, in the hunt for a quick buck, they forgot what really matters.

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