Kirsten Mustain

Editor, Grove Sun

When I was in school we played a game that I am certain most people are familiar with.

It was intended to demonstrate the way a story changes in retelling.

You have played it before. One person whispers a story into the ear of the person next to them, and that person repeats the story into the ear of the person next to them and so on until the story has circulated all the way around the room and gets back to the person who originally told it.

So the first person says something like, “A monkey climbed a tree and picked a banana.”

And the last person says something like, “Twelve monkeys had a fight in a coconut tree and seven were killed, but the rest split three bananas between them.”

Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you know the drill.

People with different motivations and different perspectives might hear the same story, but it will sound different to their different ears. And when they recount the story to their different friends they add their own special touches and before you know it, facts have turned into rumors and rumors have turned into mythological epics.

And once the mythological epic has been established someone calls my office extension and demands to know why it hasn’t been plastered all over the front page with 100 point headlines and graphic photos.

Perhaps it is the fault of irresponsible bloggers who don’t cite sources and the fact that serious journalists are some of the lowest-paid people on earth and therefore a dwindling breed, but the lines between news and rumor and baseless opinion seem to be disappearing in the public psyche.

Perhaps it is because “fair and balanced” has become synonymous with rabid name-calling and erroneous analogies.

Grove is a fairly small town, and everyone knows or knows of everyone else, of course, gossip is often rampant – just like any other small town.

But, there is a difference between a credible story and a fancifully embroidered tall tale.

A person may have all sorts of opinions, but opinions are not facts. Many opinions are based upon emotions, and emotions by their nature are not logical or reliable.

So, when someone calls me and asks why I haven’t run a story about the “fact” that our local officials are idiots or the “fact” that the Grove community hates bears or the “fact” that Grove Schools are a hotbed of communist activity, I have to decline. (For the record, no one has actually accused anyone in Grove of being a communist to my knowledge, which is not to say that it’s never happened.)

I think a very important life skill is the ability to discern the difference between what your emotions tell you and what is verifiably correct. Something may seem obvious to you, but if it isn’t obvious to someone more objective, it might just be your opinion.

The more strongly you feel about something, the more likely it is that you are reacting to emotion instead of fact. So if you find that you are exceedingly irate due to the fact that the mayor doesn’t understand the real rules of fashion etiquette, well, it might just be your own opinion and not an actual fact.

Anyway, while I firmly believe that my readers are the most intelligent people in the four-state area and none of them fall into the category of non-critical thinkers, I do think it bears repeating that news stories are not about opinions. They are about facts.

And it may be true that these people or those people are idiots or communists or crazy bear-lovers or lunatics with checkered pasts, if it cannot be proven with documentation and credible corroboration, it simply cannot be presented as a news story.

Rumors can be factual, but unless they are proven, they are still just rumors.