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‘The journalists had become cameras, not human beings anymore': reflections on the Chile miners story

The rescue of Chile’s trapped miners captured the attention of the world. Live blogs, 24-hour TV stations, newspapers – the story was embraced by all platforms. Scotland’s Daily Record even featured a picture of the first emerged miner on its 4am front page. The media spotlight was well and truly focused on events at ‘Camp Hope’, enabling people all over the world to witness the remarkable rescue.

But some of the media coverage and in particular the volume of journalists who descended on the mine area has come under fire as questions arise over the necessity of hundreds of reporters being at the location to cover the story.

In an interview with euronews, local journalist Claudia La Torre said the behaviour of journalists desperate to cover the story was “too much”.

Before the media arrived there was a lot of crying, and then the feeling spread and the media got hold of it and put it to the fore. The media has been very important as it has informed everyone. But there are still limits. Yesterday I saw some miner’s families telling the media to go away. They wanted some privacy, the cameras and lights were harassing them. I regretted that, and I felt it was too much. The mother of the first miner rescued shouted at the journalists to stop, she was trying to hold her son in her arms and she couldn’t. I had to walk away, I felt that the journalists had just become cameras and not human beings any more.

Steve Safran from Lost Remote also commented on the amount of coverage and number of journalists at the scene, which he felt was “way out of proportion”.

Not to be cranky here – it’s great that these men are being rescued. But the coverage is way out of proportion to the importance of the event. And there is little perspective here. Suppose these men had died in the collapse back in August. Would it have received a mention at all in the news? This has as much to do with the fact that the coverage could be planned as anything.

Blogger Jeremy Littau from Lehigh University added that he felt Chile is a ‘story about journalism’s failure’.

I see a story about journalism. To know that 1300 journalists have descended on this mining town to cover a worldwide story is a little disconcerting in an era of closed foreign bureaus and budget cutbacks. Many might question that thought given the intense interest in the story; my Twitter and Facebook feeds were lit up last night as the first miner descended up the 2000-foot shaft. But the public doesn’t think in terms of resources when it consumes journalism; it only has what it has in front of it.

These concerns continued today as reports that the BBC spent more than £100,000 on covering the rescue operation emerged via a leaked memo from BBC world news editor Jon Williams, which suggested the broadcaster will have to reduce its coverage of other major events as a result.

“The financial situation is serious”, Mr Williams wrote. “We are currently £67k beyond our agreed overspend of £500k; newsgathering’s costs for Chile will exceed £100,000.”

Coverage of the forthcoming Nato summit in Lisbon, the Cancun climate summit and the Davos World Economic Forum will all suffer as a result of the black hole in the corporation’s finances.

But while the rescue operation of the 33 men may be over, the media interest in the miners is likely to continue for some time. In fact, according to a report from the Guardian, freelance journalist Jonathan Franklin, who reported on the story for the newspaper from the start, is already signed up to write a book about the events.

“This is one of the great rescue stories of all time,” he said, admitting he himself had wept as the first miners were released on Tuesday night. “It’s the reason we all want to be reporters: a remarkable story of the world coming together for a good reason. It taps into human altruism, the desire to work together, perseverance, faith that good things happen, never giving up.” The early chapters of the book, he said, were already written.

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