Friday, November 2, 2012

Think! ... before commenting

By Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer

Rumors. Truth. Lies.

Ah, I'll bet that you are thinking that I am talking about political candidates and elections.

Sorry to disappoint, but in spite of the fact that rumors and lies are the "norm" from our presidential hopefuls and the truth is the last thing that you will get during a presidential election year, we are not talking politics today.

A tragic case this past week involving a series of crashes and the death of a local man is but the latest example of how rumors, misinformation and flat out made-up information can cause confusion and pain to unsuspecting and innocent citizens.

As information from the case became available, we began posting up-to-date official information on our Piqua Daily Call Facebook page.

It should be noted that the information we release has been confirmed by officials from the police department. That is one of the most serious issues that I have with this so-called "citizen journalism" that is becoming so popular with news organizations who are looking to cut costs as they lose their credibility by trusting unprofessional and untrained "reporters."

As soon as we posted the first facts regarding the incident, comments began to appear that eluded to drinking, to pedestians being struck, and a host of other rumors that were not only untrue, they had never been mentioned.

I find myself asking, where does this stuff come from? Do people just make up stuff in their head and decide to type it to see what happens?

It reminds me of a classic scene in the biographical film "Sergeant York" starring Gary Cooper. In the humorous scene, a company of World War I "doughboys" is marching down a road as news of York's incredible feat of capturing 132 German soldiers single-handed begins to surface. The guy in front turns to the guy behind him and says, "Hey, did you hear that York just captured 132 Germans, all my his lonesome." By the time the news is passed to the back of the company, Sgt. York and just captured the Kiser and effected the surrender of the whole German army.

Sadly, this is the exact type of thing that happens all too regularly. Mixed in with some of these early highly-exaggerated and wholly untrue posts were a couple that suggested the Piqua Daily Call was wrong in posting information so quickly on a breaking story.

In this age of nearly immediate information, it is true that a risk is there of a family member reading about it "in the news" before being properly notified by authorities.

I would like to believe that we are, first and foremost, doing our job, which is, as I see it, to keep the public informed as to what is happening in our community and to do so in a manner that everyone who reads a news story written by our staff, knows that the information contained in the story is as factual and as up-to-date as we can make it.

Secondarily, we have become community rumor sepulchers. After posting the initial news story about the crash and going about gathering updated information, I ended up feeling obligated to spend the next two hours on Facebook as a moderator, reading each new post and attempting to squelch rumors before they could get out of hand.

Incidents such as these are tragic enough, in themselves, without giving life to half-truths, and outright falsehoods.

As a photographer and sometimes-writer for our paper, one of the things that I love about our Piqua Daily Call News Updates Facebook page is the fact that we can keep our followers up-to-date on the latest news. I love the fact that we can get feedback and comments.

The downside of course is that all to often these comments are unsubstantiated and often turn out to be less than factual.

Thank you to all who take the time to follow us, not only in our printed newspaper but also online. Please, though, when you decide to comment or post, avoid letting your typing fingers move faster than your brain.

1 comment:

  1. The other way to look at it is that these same type of rumors happened before the Internet - you just didn't get to see or hear them. If you're not careful you can become obsessed with trying to get the truth corrected, when in reality, most people take those comments as a slice of Internet loony-ness and a grain of salt. I like to visit the fan forums of whatever rival team we're about to play just to see what the extreme crazies are saying, knowing that I have to dilute everything ten times to find a shred of reality. We just have to adjust our thinking to this new age of everyone saying what they think behind a cloak of anonymity.