Sometimes, when I’m feeling flip, I like to refer to the work I do as “gossip with sources.” In a way, it’s true, but it’s also pretty reductive and doesn’t really reflect the nuance of the work that we newspaper journalists do.
For instance, every so often (actually, pretty often), someone will call me or stop me on the street and tell me, “You really should look into such-and-such.” And usually, I nod, and discuss whatever scandal we’re talking about, but I also make sure to warn these would-be deep throats that unless there’s paperwork or someone’s willing to go on the record, I probably can’t write about it.
What a shame.
Because, often, the stuff that’s not on the record is the most interesting. For instance: anything a certain coal billionaire-basketball coach-resort owner does. Here’s why: this guy does all kinds of things that are morally uncertain but probably, technically legal. Or, he does things that are blatantly illegal but no one has pressed charges. He may or may not recruit out-of-state basketball players to play for his team. He might not pay his bills. A certain bro-country superstar might be suing him. He probably broke up the Black Eyed Peas and then, a few years later, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. His Friday-afternoon resort-staff firings are the stuff of legend. The list goes on and on.
But do we write about it? Not all of it. Why? Because we don’t know where to look for the evidence; there is no available paperwork. Now, when there is paperwork, you’ll find it in our pages, but all the really good stuff never finds its way into the paper.
There are many armchair critics who say, “Whichever university gave Sarah Mansheim her journalism degree ought to lose its accreditation.”
To which I say, “Ha! Joke’s on you! I don’t HAVE a journalism degree!”
But, I digress.
Sometimes, when stuff is really juicy, we watch and we wait. Will the Register-Herald get it? (They’re corporate, which means they’ve got a team of good lawyers.) How about the Gazette? By waiting for a larger publication to break an edgy story, we miss out on being first, but we’re also working at a safer clip by being less likely to be sued. It’s easier that way. Trust me.
The problem is, oftentimes those other outlets don’t publish those juicy stories either, and that leaves me feeling two ways: one, relieved that I made the correct decision by not writing about a questionable subject; and two, indignant, because that means that somebody is probably getting away with something really sketchy, and none of us newspaper folks are calling them on it.
Last week, I received a harmless-looking press release indicating that the daughter of the aforementioned coal billionaire-basketball coach-resort owner had been named president of said resort.
The first thing I wondered was, what does that mean for the current (or former?) president of the resort, an individual best known for his abundant coiffure and Gucci loafers? Oh, and for being one of the ONLY people who haven’t lost their managerial jobs over the last seven years?
I wanted to know, and so I did what any self-respecting journalist would do: I stalked him on Topix and LinkedIn. I combed social media for clues. One online friend, who used to work in a managerial position at the resort, posted a one-word post over the weekend that I decided must be relevant. It said, simply, “Karma.”
“Ooh,” I thought, and opened up the comment thread.
There, another former resort higher-up remarked, “I don’t know what you are talking about, but if you are talking about what I THINK you are talking about, then, Right On!”
Now, they could have been talking about Mr. Gucci Loafers, or they could have been talking about reincarnation. Who knows?
Do you know what happens when you call a private or governmental organization and ask them about the status of one of their employees? They call it a “personnel matter” and they hang up on you. Something about privacy laws, blah blah blah.
So, what do we do? We continue to work on our “gossip with sources.” We make folks angry – some who think we don’t do enough, and others who think we do too much.
I ran into someone last weekend who said, “I love reading your article every week!”
“Thank you!” I chirped, tersely thinking, “It’s a column, but whatever.”
“You’re like a celebrity!” she said. And then she came in for the kill. “That reminds me. I’ve got some concerns about something, and I’d really like you to look into it for the paper … wait, which paper do you write for again?”
And with that, we were off.