Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Missing the moment

I remember early on when I would be working the Obit desk at the Daily Herald thinking it was odd and a pain to be asked to call on EVERY obituary to see if someone real answered the phone.
I used to think it was a waste of time because 99 percent of the time, a receptionist or employee of the funeral home/mortuary would answer the phone.
Sometimes it felt invasive if I reached a member of the grieving family.
My bosses basically told me to just do it, never mind that I didn't see the reason.
Now, many years and much experience later, I see the reason.
In fact, it's so clear that I can't believe I ever dared write a word without checking first to see if the source was legitimate, still alive and fairly sane.
More times than anyone would think, people will try to put one over on a news outlet.
An ex-wife will submit her philandering husband's death notice or sell his new Porsche for $20.
A bunch of goof-offs in a fraternity or high school debate class will send in a false lead for a sensationalist story as a joke, ha, ha.
Some enterprising folks just want to see if news folks will fall for a made-up story.
It makes for a fairly paranoid management.
And if you've watched the recent flurry of concern over a recent phony story in the Deseret News, you can see what happens.
(Seems somebody sent out a false press release announcing the Southern Baptist Church acceptance of gays and lesbians. Most news outlets smelled a rat and refused the pickup. Somebody at the D News missed it. The paper ran the story followed by a lengthy, embarrassing retraction:
When this happens, it always makes for a miserable few days as everybody tries to sort out who's to blame and who missed it and how do we make sure it never happens again?
I feel for the unlucky reporter and editor who got taken in.
It's so easy to assume you can trust information someone took the time to prepare.
It's so hard to admit you've been fooled. Every day, there are so many close calls.
Thank heaven for the early obit training.

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