They’re a puttin’ on extra shifts at the ol’ Great Bend Rumor Mill.
Talk about job creation and a recovery. Granted, they may be low-wage, part-time jobs with no benefits. But, hey, we can’t be too choosy in these tough economic times. The mill might even qualify for some sort of tax abatement.
From corruption allegations to who sold whose house to whom, to “look who is in jail,” we here at the Tribune have been bombarded of late by calls, e-mails and good, old-fashioned, hand-scrawled letters. These folks want to know why they haven’t seen whatever story tickles their conspiratorial fancy, or they think is being covered up, emblazoned across our front page.
We are a newspaper. Not a gossip rag or some Internet blog where a “writer” can pound away with impunity. We maintain a standard of integrity and consistency. A voice of reason rising above the growing din of rumor-mongering garbage.
So, in keeping with a newspaper’s roll as a public servant and information source for the community, it would be good to elaborate on just how one gets their name in print.
First, the more traditional methods of winding up in the newspaper.
Have a birthday.
Celebrate an anniversary.
Buy an ad.
Join a club or civic organization.
Be in a play.
Take part in an activity.
For the love of Pete, just get involved in the community.
Quit being one of those whine-and-moan sideline standers whose raison d’etre is to complain about what everyone else does or doesn’t do.
Not that dying or getting divorced are good things, but there are some ways to get onto our pages that may be even less desirable. Names will earn ink, whether the person wants them to or not, if they:
Get arrested (in Barton County or nearby).
Go to jail (in Barton County or nearby).
Get a DUI.
Are in an accident.
Cause an accident.
Commit a crime (in Barton County or nearby).
See a pattern developing here?
If some local Joe Schmoe (say an employee of a utility company) gets pulled over in Lee’s Summit with a dime bag of pot in his glove box, it won’t make it into the Tribune. Good for him. Bad, perhaps, for all those with wagging tongues back home.
Now, let us say Joe Schmoe is the husband of a prominent local business woman. How about now? Will it be in the paper? Sorry, no. It still took place in Missouri and Mr. Schmoe is still just a regular Joe.
We don’t check the police blotters and court filings in every county and municipality in the nation. We have enough deadbeats and losers right here at home to keep us busy.
Let’s kick this up a notch. Say Schmoe is the mayor of a community in Barton or the surrounding counties. How about now?
Oh, yes. Not only yes, but heck yes. We’d be on this like ink on newsprint. But, like I said earlier, we don’t check the records outside our coverage area, so someone would have to narc on our poor, misguided civil servant.
If that drug-sniffing dog indicated on that glove box in our fair city, no question. News.
See, a mayor, city/county official, elected official or someone in a position of authority is held to a higher standard. They are public figures, and by accepting public support, they also garner public scrutiny. If they can’t handle the heat, they need to stay out of the political kitchen.
There are some vague areas. In some cases, being a prominent resident can draw coverage if, say, the crime relates to their type of employment (a banker caught with his or her hands in the till). But, like so many other things, it would depend on if charges are filed. We won’t do anything until there is a legal paper trail.
This also depends on the seriousness of the crime. If our Mr. Schmoe (the one who is a nobody) offed his wife and stuffed her into his trunk (or, after hearing that her husband was caught with pot, the wife offs the husband and stuffs him in the trunk), well, that’s a no-brainer.
But, even some stuff about public folks is not grist for the news mill. If Mayor Schmoe buys a condo in Aspen and divorces his wife so he can hang out on the slopes with a co-ed, as salacious as this sounds, that’s probably not news.
We maintain a pretty liberal letters to the editor policy. We run darn near anything, but draw the line when a submission libels or defames someone. We don’t want to get sued and we want to protect ourselves and those who send us items for the opinion page. Even opinions can land a paper or a submitter in court.
Rules covering the free-for-all that is the Internet are more lax, but if a post goes too far, we may have to drop the axe.
Bottom line – inquiring minds don’t only want to know. They want to know the facts, understand what happened and why. That takes more than merely casting aspersions in some on-line posting. This is the difference between news and rumors.
Dale Hogg is the managing editor of the Great Bend Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.