Rumours are something any newspaper deals with on a daily basis.
Some of our best stories come from chasing down a rumour heard from someone on the street, or emailed in to our offices. You might say unsubstantiated rumours are our stock in trade.
But there is an ugly side to rumours, as we all know, that occurs when the rumour is, in fact, completely untrue.This week, a rumour filtered through to our office. The information we received had us scrambling a bit at the last minute, as the story would have meant rethinking how we were going to lay out the paper, and what would go on our front page. Phone calls were made and the mad, adrenaline-fueled hunt for the breaking story was on.
You see, the rumour concerned the death of someone of which readers of The Chief would be familiar. Although we dislike writing stories about death as much as you dislike reading them, it is our job to report on such things. So, with delicacy we probed for facts, and during that probing discovered the information to be false.
This caused a bit of concern.
Not only was the rumour already circulating in town, but through our own chasing of the facts, we may have also been contributing to the spread of misinformation.
While rumours about political corruption, vigilantism and crimes are welcome, it is reprehensible to speak of someone's death, without knowing for sure that the person has, in fact, died. Many at our offices were genuinely and deeply pained to hear the false news, and I'm sure so was anyone who was exposed to the malicious story.
Investigating other types of rumours is par for the course in our business, and it causes no real harm to question those supposedly involved for confirmation. However, calling the loved ones and family of someone to ask about their death is difficult enough when it is true, but downright cruel when it is not.
Now, the person who passed the rumour to someone in our office was probably just passing it on innocently from someone else. But, someone had to begin the falsehood, and whether through confusion, maliciousness or misinformation, a hurtful cycle began.
We still need to hear rumours at The Chief, and encourage people to call and let us know what is indeed going on in the community. However, have a care when passing information on to your neighbour, friend or local reporter.
Seemingly innocent gossip can prove hurtful to others, and you may just be contributing to a chain of untruth.