Lights! Camera! Restraint!

If you're used to the high-decibel whining of cable TV, you may have been surprised by a small miracle on Sunday.

Not the one where nine miners were pulled out alive from a Pennsylvania mine, but the other one: the miracle of TV reporters chronicling a developing drama with care, discretion, and common sense.

This real-life nail-biter couldn't have been more thrilling. It was the stuff of great television. The only "special effects" were the dedication and grit of men laboring under extreme pressure and extraordinary confines to save their fellow workers.

Cable TV, especially, sometimes loses its grip in the chase for a story. After all, "Breaking News" used to be reserved for special circumstances. Now, no more. But the rescue of the miners is as good a definition as you'll find. It's a reminder that not all news is created equal.

Most notable about Sunday's coverage was the civility of reporters, who waited, with the rest of the world, as the story unfolded. Granted, this unlikely reserve may have been somewhat imposed. We were told that Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker had adopted a "families first" policy, whereby the miners' families were notified of developments before seeing them on TV.

So when it became clear that the miners were in good shape, pooled video provided live coverage of each rescue. Cramped in that narrow capsule, each of the men shimmied out from the cylinder, some smiling, some with thumbs up, onto a stretcher. Do we need more vivid images than these?

Journalists are taught to "let the story tell itself." Yet some are tempted to gussy up the facts. There are lessons to be learned from Pennsylvania, from an episode so rich in natural drama that only restraint was needed. TV reporters, rather than jumping all over the story, watched, properly in awe.

• Joan Silverman is a freelance writer.

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