In a world with over 6 billion people, there is bound to be a few thousand in the throes of some disaster (natural or otherwise) at any given time. Since news agencies thrive on breaking disaster news, it’s not uncommon to hear and see numbers of dead flying around like a stock ticker.
This week, three horrible events were covered extensively in the Canadian and American news: the ‘stampede’ in a Chicago nightclub, the subway fire in South Korea, and the plane crash in Iran. As each of these events unfolded, the number of dead reported on various websites, including CBC, MSNBC, CNN, and BBC, was contradictory. In some cases, the variations were quite significant.
For example, at around 8:30 PM Atlantic time, I took a screenshot of a Google News search for Iran air crash. See a screenshot of the results with the casualty estimates highlighted.
During the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, the immediate speculation varies from a staggering 50,000 to (an also staggering) 5,000 (now somewhere between 3,000-4,000).
However, these were not reported as concrete numbers – nobody knew what was going on and we all knew it. Many of the numbers being reported in the screenshot above are not qualified as unconfirmed.
Is this kind of inaccuracy understandable? Is news being delivered before it is ‘ready’ (able to be confirmed), or is it better for news agencies to share what they know, when they know it?