Scott McCartney: Why you can’t kill a story

You might hear some outlandish conspiracy theories, but remember, without proof, they're nothing.
You might hear some outlandish conspiracy theories, but remember, without proof, they're nothing.

Journalism is a funny old game. It can bring tales out of the woodwork, many may promise to be the all-important story that vanquishes the forces of evil and highlights the injustices of modern day life.

Some claims may seem outlandish, far-fetched, or even just downright unlikely. Sure, a possible story can land in your lap, and it may look like it can walk the walk. But can it talk the talk?

Case in point; an old memory from college saw me saunter in late (again) to find the lecturer having stumped the class for a good half hour with a riddle. He brought me up to speed on the nature of the assignment before I’d even sat down. “Picture the situation,” he said excitedly. “A man comes to you full of intricate detail about who shot JFK. He knows everything there is to know and can answer any questions you have on it. But the riddle is this; you will not print his story and I want you to tell me why. Even though he knows who did it.”

Nervously, with the eyes of the class upon me expectantly, I bottled it, and jokingly blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

“Oh yeah, prove it!”

“And that’s the answer!” he shot back, to groans from the class. “For all his claims and details, he has no proof!”

It’s probably the only time I got a question right and it was a total fluke, but it taught me a valuable lesson which brings me back to this week at FFP Towers.

You can make the most any old claim to create or even kill a story. But unless you have proof to back up your claims, it’s nothing more than bluster.

If you’re going to try and get your side across in a news story, don’t rely on info you can’t prove. Because a pile of well-kept documents could well tell a different story.