Well, obviously, the situation in West Virginia is tragic. I don't want to jump on the story while it's still playing out, nor do I want to be disrespectful to the families and everyone else involved by stomping in with my uninformed opinion.
What I will say is this: Anytime a situation is developing, particularly one with public safety as the crux, there is no more vital function (other than the actual saving of lives) than delivering verified facts to a person in authority to speak for the situation. In most situations, that person should be the only one doing the talking.
I've seen this played out before in other situations and organizations/governments/people/companies get themselves in trouble when a) people without authority to speak for the situation b) disclose "information" that at best is true but unverified and at worst is (as it was in this case) flat-out wrong. It can lead to heartbreaking situations, like this one. From what I've read so far, there were some people who overheard information that they interpreted as much more positive than it actually was (miners were found, vs. miners were found alive), assumed survival, and started spreading the word.
This obviously doesn't compare to the loss of human life, but once a company I was with was in the process of an acquisition. We set out communication ground rules, with one person designated as spokesperson. I was accused of trying to lord over the situation and "control everything." The lording part was stupid, but the control part had a kernel of truth in it -- the information flow had to be carefully handled (public markets were involved) in order to avoid damaging the organizations. Appropriate control was important.
In a chaotic situation, it's terribly hard to get a good grip on the steering wheel. The more that can be done, though, the better the communications process usually work, and the more everyone affected can have assurance about what they're dealing with.
Jeff Jarvis links to this clip of Anderson Cooper learning the information was wrong -- it's very indicative of the chaos of the situation (his first question: "Where did you hear this information?"). What you don't see on the screen is the grief and anger that was playing out inside the church when the coal company CEO had to reverse what had been reported. (I'm going to be interested in what we learn about how the CEO dealt with all this. I wonder how true it is that he waited so long to update everyone instead of immediately saying everything needed to be verified. Were the lawyers calling the shots by then? Regardless, he was dealing with a terrible situation.)
Jarvis' point, with which I somewhat (but not fully) agree, is that you can't trust the news. I don't believe that's always the case. However, you do notice at the end of the clip, Cooper says : "We're trying to get confirmation on this. Frankly we do not know what the situation is." Yet the live reporting goes on.
It's fine to communicate often (as they say, bad news ages poorly) and in fact more communication is usually better. With verified facts.
Prayers for the miners who lost their lives, and for their families.