Carroll: Chasing our tales
Given that our time is valuable in the newsroom, there’s no greater time-suck than chasing a lame news tip.
One of those dead-on-arrival leads came last week, during non-business hours, when a man knocked on the Times’ office doors with the latest hot tip that would blow the roof right off of the Aspen Dome.
The latest incarnation of Deep Throat, according to a Times employee, had insisted that Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Sting, Madonna and a whole slew of Billboard big names were privately performing in Aspen, either at Belly Up or the Wheeler Opera House. Never mind that the Wheeler is closed for re-modeling, but the tipster also noted that Michelle Obama would be in attendance along with some Arab princes.
For sure, some of us locals like to think that Aspen is so important that such an all-star performance could occur within our pristine city limits, but we had the better sense not to waste our time by trying to confirm the latest concert of the century.
Fortunately, I was out of town to get a first-hand account of this tip. Not that I’ve ever felt left out on these exercises in futility.
Two weeks earlier, I would have laughed in a tipster’s face if his story had not been so sadly pathetic. His claim: that he was the victim of body snatching, yet he remained in his same body. His tale stretched from Aspen to Beverly Hills and from Paris to Louisiana.
At our meeting, I told him we would have to pass on his story. I also asked him if he needed any help, a question whose intentions eluded him and led to another vague, rambling response.
Later that week, he emailed me with more allegations to support his claim: “I am a genetically modified organism hacked shrunk to bury my body to bury evidence. A GMO organ bank beat down buried into a coma for theoretically, organ theft timeshares synthesis keys network grids slaves? … I desperately need this story to break, regardless the conceptual nature of Genetic modified organisms and body snatcher organ theft Bait&Switch body snatchers.”
Just because I punted on that lead doesn’t mean I haven’t fallen victim to bad tips that had the ingredients for a great story. When you work like you’re broke — we didn’t get in this business to be rich — that’s what happens sometimes.
Back in ’97 when I reported for the Aspen Daily News, a then-New York Pizza employee by the name of Mark, a local character who enjoyed much of his time at the expense of others, phoned me in a disguised voice to report the sighting of a naked man running through town.
I took the bait and was off, scurrying through the streets of downtown Aspen, and eventually to the police station, inquiring about the at-large streaker. I spent a good two hours on this bogus tip before the prankster fessed up. At least the free slice and draft beer Mark gave me helped ease the sting.
Years later, in 2003, I’d report in the Daily News about Widespread Panic’s upcoming concert at the now-defunct and aptly named Ship of Fools bar in Carbondale. I even bought tickets to the two-night gig, which spawned a two-part series — one on the buzz about the big show, and one on the reaction of ticket buyers who felt, in one interviewee’s words, “bamboozled” when she learned the Georgia jam band hadn’t even been booked.
Lame leads aside, our biggest frustrations come when we receive a valid tip that those in the know won’t dare to confirm.
A recent example is last month’s piece about the old Il Mullino restaurant space at the base of Aspen Mountain. For weeks the open secret throughout town had been that a new tenant was lined up for the high-profile location. Two of our reporters spent weeks putting up with stall tactics by those who were privy to the deal.
When a reporter finally did receive confirmation, we went with the story — nearly one month after we were tipped off.
That’s a fairly routine ordeal — getting brushed off by potential sources who want to keep their deals private until they’re ready to announce them, on their own terms. When that happens, we either move on to the next tip or dig in our heels on the current one, with or without cooperation from sources.
But as frustrating as this business can be, it would be much more frustrating if we didn’t receive any leads. Getting a bunch of wood and nails plopped on our desk doesn’t always mean we can build a house, but it can be good practice, that precious time be damned.
Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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