One of the more frustrating, although sometimes amusing, parts of journalism is trying to correct someone else’s fabrication, disinformation, half-truths or outright whoppers.
Journalists used to consider the gatekeeper role a key function, which is part of the reason there’s some distrust for the news media. Who are we to decide what gets reported and what doesn’t?
Like any profession, there are resources, and you have to focus on some things and ignore others. Anything could be news to some people just like anything can bore other people. It’s something you get better at with experience, but it’s an imperfect craft.
The issue in modern journalism is that fiber-optic cables have blown those gates to smithereens. Anyone with a smartphone, keyboard, Blogspot address or Facebook account can put out any information. Good information, well-intentioned but distorted information, or information that if converted from its digital existence to physical matter would help get the best out of your vegetable garden.
So we occasionally field calls or emails from readers referring us to something they saw on the Internet, which often has at least a grain of truth. Whether that truth is even recognizable anymore after being knocked around cyberspace like an NHL puck is often left to be determined.
This week we took a call from a concerned-sounding gentleman who’d worked his way through our newsroom administrative staff and a few editors before getting to me. He’d grown more exasperated at each transfer but no closer to the great mystery that plagued him: What happened to the Hooters restaurant in Crystal Lake?
My curiosity had waned since the restaurant closed more than a year ago. Not one of my haunts. Not into greasy wings or Lycra shorts. To each his own.
The best I could say was that restaurant corporate officials had no comment on why women clad in orange and white would no longer be singing “Happy Birthday” to middle-aged men on days that weren’t their birthday at the Route 14 location.
The caller was troubled by my non-answer and insistent that there was more to this story that the Mainstream Media had not uncovered. He was convinced of this cover-up by putting together various bits of information he’d found online, and was mostly concerned with the abruptness with which the burger establishment closed.
Unfazed, I asked whether he believed that most chain restaurants closed gradually as opposed to abruptly. Perhaps you got eight wings instead of the 12 you ordered or your frosty mug of Coors Light was enigmatically only half-filled.
Finally, he referenced a Crystal Lake blog item he’d discovered but remained cryptic about the contents. A quick Google search led me to it. I won’t provide a link to dignify it, but you can easily find it if you’re curious.
Essentially, the post stated that all Hooters establishments are outfitted with video camera detecting devices wired directly to FBI offices. When a visitor began recording in the restaurant, a battalion of armed agents arrived to eventually Taser him and throw him to the ground.
FBI and SWAT team members then opened fire on restaurant patrons who objected to this injustice. The survivors were taken to jail, including seven waitresses who were tagged with fictitious charges of Public Display of Affection.
I’m not sure I convinced the out-of-state caller that this did not in fact happen. We weren’t there. We didn’t report it. How could we be sure? Remaining comfortable with my lack of direct knowledge of an FBI-led massacre a mile from my office, I thanked him for the call.
Of course this is an extreme example, but a very real one. So I’d just ask one from those who read “news” items that float across the vast Internet: Please. Please consider the source.
• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.