A newspaper employee on Tuesday walked to the back of our office looking at her cellphone. “Did you hear about a meth lab being found near Ellisville… Ira G. Odom Road…?”
I hadn’t. Mark Thornton, who most certainly would have known if a meth lab had been found in the county, did not know. There was no press release from the Sheriff’s Department.
But there it was, on Facebook, with Sheriff Alex Hodge giving an in-depth on-camera interview about the lab, which was found in a barn south of Ellisville — almost 10 years ago!
Now, unless one noticed that Hodge looked about a decade younger, there really was nothing on the video that intimated that it was almost 10 years old. Someone found the YouTube clip and, with a few keystrokes, had people in the county wanting to know more about the meth-lab bust. A relative of the person arrested in that bust reached out to a reporter here asking for us to delete the video because it happened so many years ago. In fact, it was a story from the former staff and owners of the Leader-Call and we have no control over it.
Then we have the case of rock singer Tom Petty, who suffered a fatal heart attack on Monday. But it wasn’t “fatal” until several hours after multiple media outlets — many of them well-respected — “broke” the story on their social media pages. A perfect example of a thirst to be first, but not factual. One news outlet reports on a death using sources not allowed to speak — which is a necessary evil in today’s journalism. But the source turns out to be not so rock solid. Other media pick up and cite the original story. Then other media take to social media sites saying Petty is not dead and that the other media never confirmed the reports.
The world of news is confusing. Television news stations take a slant to the left or the right, reporting on what they think their viewers want. Anyone with a cellphone — and it seems like everyone has one — can, with a few nifty key strokes, create any “breaking” news at any time — with unlimited audience potential. Once-trusted news organizations, not to be outdone, jump in quickly to get the news out as fast as possible. The thirst to be first.
When the LL-C employee alerted an editor to the meth bust, that editor reached out to Thornton. He checked his sources — it is said Thornton has the golden Rolodex — and found there was no meth bust going on. While social media continued to erupt, the local newspaper employed necessary restraints.
Today will bring to a close National Newspaper Week. There certainly was not much fanfare recognizing local newspapers, save for a special cookie delivery to this office. As changes to the media landscape continue at break-neck pace, it is always wise to remember the importance of having a local newspaper. How that information will be delivered in the future is unknown. But a newspaper is still a valuable, viable tool for trusted news.
Be a part of it.
And thanks for the cookies.