With the lightening-rod topics surrounding development in Ancich Waterfront Park and downtown on the Haub property off Harborview Dr., any tidbit of information making its way through social media channels or trusted news organizations can send someone into a furor and set off a litany of finger-pointing.
What about when that information has not been fact-checked, cross referenced or is steeped in broad assumptions or outright falsehoods?
Gig Harbor Mayor Jill Guernsey addressed some of those concerns last week in a guest commentary after a letter to the editor by a resident suggested that some of the negotiations behind the potential development of the Haub property involved some kind of quid pro quo (my words, not Guernsey’s) with the promise of a donation to the mayor’s favorite charity in exchange for preferential treatment or approval of the project.
While that specific statement didn’t run in the version of the letter which ran in the Gateway on the editorial page, another weekly publication in town printed it in its entirety. I’m fairly certain Guernsey has a thick skin when it comes to residents complaining and accusing her and the City Council of favorable treatment toward individuals or organizations, but when she feels the need to speak out in print about a rumor going around, I know that has touched a nerve.
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I even received an email from a reader, Susie Sutton, who was particularly concerned about the part of Jeni Woock’s letter which mentioned the “further destruction of our small, historic, charming and unique downtown.”
The reader mentioned that she called the City of Gig Harbor Planning Department and was advised that “there is no proposal to ‘...eliminate single family zoning in all of downtown,’ contrary to Ms. Woock’s contention.”
“I am disheartened to think that many people will accept the conjecture without researching the subject themselves,” Sutton continued. “If I am correct, good journalism requires information from three sources to be sure an article is accurate.”
You are absolutely right, Susie.
Newspapers such as The Peninsula Gateway and its parent paper, The News Tribune, must follow certain rules when it comes to gathering information and writing stories or column’s about a developer or city’s plans. Journalists make it a point to speak to both sides, and not to just ignore giant pieces of the puzzle. We also seek out subject matter experts, those who have the background and experience to offer an unbiased account.
When rumors start swirling, citizens need to stop and ask themselves a few key questions, mainly:
▪ Where is this information coming from?
▪ Is there some other part of the story that’s missing?
▪ Has this information been verified?
I’ll add one more piece to the mayor’s column about things being true just because they appeared in print: Just because it’s on the internet and social media sites, that doesn’t make it true.