“A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
Spoken by Sir Winston Churchill, if the word “world” was replaced with “Huntington,” one would have to wonder if the witty, British prime minister had the occasion to visit our fair county during his travels abroad.
Although it could probably be said of many close-knit communities, the rumor mill in Huntington is never still, but perpetually grinding out both truths and falsehoods at the rate that water pours from a bottomless bucket.
Somehow the most popular of these rumors tend to be false, or they contain such a minute amount of truth that it renders the information almost useless. As a journalist, many of these viral rumors seem to find their way to me. And since so-and-so, who wishes to remain anonymous in any story I may write, heard this information from “a most reliable source” (who also desires to remain anonymous and ironically, heard it from someone who requests anonymity), it surely must be true and worth reporting even if the information is attributed to no known sources. (In my humble opinion, this is a form of shielding one’s rear end from any potential flak that may come from spreading local gossip.)
Sometimes these rumors can lead to the discovery of legitimate issues. Most of the time they lead me on wild goose chases.
The latest of these rumors that I heard was from a gentleman who approached my husband and told him to inform me I simply must uncover the Huntington County Community School Corporation’s secret plot to close down Northwest Elementary School. This school closing was going to take place (supposedly) without the public’s knowledge until it was too late for the dirty deed to be reversed, leaving numerous local teachers out of work, while simultaneously putting a strain on the remaining teachers who would have to deal with the influx of children in their classrooms.
Of course this gentleman received this information from a “very reliable inside source” who didn’t want to be named so as not to incriminate herself – surprise, surprise. And since he approached my husband and I wouldn’t know the man from Adam, I didn’t have the privilege of questioning him further on the subject.
Maybe this rumor is rooted in fear following Fort Wayne Community Schools’ decision to shut down Elmhurst High. Who knows. But that’s all it is: a rumor with no basis in fact. Not only was it confirmed by School Board President Kevin Patrick that there are no plans to close any schools in the Huntington County Community School Corporation, I could have written off the rumor as bunk before I spoke with him.
Since HCCSC began tightening its belt (just like every other school corporation in Indiana, thanks to state-level cuts to education funding), the Board of Trustees began listing “financial update” as an agenda item at every meeting. Every budget-cutting option has been discussed openly. Not to mention, the board has also entered the budgeting process for 2011. There is no way a school closing could simply “slide under the radar” without the public’s knowledge. Budgets are discussed openly at public meetings and copies of the latest budget can be requested and obtained from the corporation. Even the mention of a possible school closing would have made headlines in every news source in the county. Does anyone honestly think a school could close without a paper trail?
If in doubt about any government or school-related issues, make a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain public records. If the rumor involves an individual, talk to that person directly before disseminating potentially false information. One could also check with local news sources to investigate the validity of claims. (I don’t mind chasing wild geese once in a while. I just prefer the information comes in the form of “I heard that … is it true?” rather than “Have I got a great story for you! …”)
Maybe it’s more fun to seem like you’re in the know and spread juicy information when you run into Joe Blow and Lucy Loose-Lips at Walmart, but it is certainly not on my list of condonable activities – nor on that of any innocent person whose character has ever been strung up by a rumor lynch mob.