It was called the “Tip Line.”
Every newsroom had them and many still do. Every place I worked the tip line was attached to an answering machine which played a pre-recorded message and then recorded whatever tip the viewer or reader had to offer.
A human being, usually a younger producer, intern or desk assistant would listen to hear if the “tip” on the tip line was worth covering.
Many of the tips were not worthy of our attention. Some of the more memorable ones included the tip that Ronald Reagan and Oliver North were sitting naked on fence posts outside of an assembly hall in San Antonio.
Several tips included aliens from a variety of planets. One tip told us the world was coming to an end in 15 minutes and we should repent then interview the tipster for a live-shot package on the 11 p.m. news – four hours after the world was scheduled to end.
Many in the news business came to call the Tip Line the “Nut Line” and the types of calls usually received shows this was a moniker more befitting the dedicated line than “Tip Line” – not that we didn’t receive some good tips on those lines.
Today you don’t have to worry about the tip line all that much. With the advent of the Internet people are foregoing the old ways of doing business. Instead of telling us their weird ideas of flat and hollow earths, the conspiracy theories, or any other strange and unverifiable tales of woe and strife, people are now putting these stories on the Internet via their own blogs or through the actions of an assemblage of other like-minded individuals.
They are correct about one thing. We do ignore them. Not always because they are reporting things we in the media do not want to report – but many times because we refuse to print, publish or broadcast garbage.
While the world seems – at least according to social media – to be worried about whether or not someone sat or stood for the National Anthem, and while the world seems to be preoccupied with how low we can go on denigrating each other merely because some of us think differently than others, the world of the “Main Stream” media has to maintain a higher standard.
We have plenty of sins. There is no doubt about it and I’ve written many columns regarding the problems of corporate ownership of media outlets.
We can be called on the carpet for much of it.
But we cannot follow the right wing or the left wing into their respective philosophical cul de sacs.
Every story doesn’t deserve to be reported and many stories do not have another side to them.
If you wish to preach the Holocaust didn’t occur, for example, that’s fine. I may disagree with what you say, but defend to death your right to say it.
However, facts show you to be grossly in error and you will not be quoted here. Yes. The Main Stream media will usually ignore you if you preach this lunacy.
I will also ignore those who think the sun circles the earth, or the earth is flat or that lizard aliens covered with human skin have taken over congress.
These stories are appropriate for cocktail party anecdotes and for general laughter, but not for publication otherwise.
If we in the media are to make any sense of what is going on in the world, then the rest of us have to trust we will at least vet our facts.
That, of course isn’t happening.
The very terms “Liberal” and “Conservative” have no meaning today. Neither does “Main Stream Media” for that matter.
With the Internet everyone is Main Stream – and that’s the problem.
I do not propose we go backward, but forward to embrace honest reporting, vetted facts and research.
This means going a little farther than Googling items of interest and copying and pasting memes you find which agree with your mindset.
This takes time, talent and education to do and it takes a reporter with experience.
And guess what – get used to paying for it if you want it.
It isn’t pretty and sometimes it takes more than the time to type out a subject in a search box.
Sometimes real research on subjects which matter can take days, weeks or months. A lack of transparency in government makes our efforts problematic - but we do still have the will and the public has the need.
The price is reasonable. The lack of responsible reporting is not.