In the newspaper world, a lot of our best stories originate as tips from our readers.
Small newspapers with just a few reporters like the Roundup are especially dependent on tips to help us keep up with community goings-on. In fact, the Roundup encourages tipsters by offering a $10 gift certificate to a local retail establishment for information we deem especially newsworthy.
Of course, human nature being what it is, we also get more than our share of exaggerated, extraneous, and just plain erroneous tips. In some cases, people get hopped up over something and read more into what they see than what's there, or they have an overactive imagination and think they see things that aren't there at all.
During the Willow Fire last summer, for example, we received phone calls that distorted the fire's progress or misinterpreted what was actually happening. On one occasion, the Roundup received a breathless call from a tipster who said that Pine was about to be evacuated.
Seems the caller had seen signs being posted delineating an "evacuation route." Turns out the signs were actually intended to direct firefighters to cleared "safe" areas in the unlikely event that the fire made a sudden run at Pine.
Then there was the lady who left a voice mail for Roundup Editor Jerry Thebado reporting that she had seen Osama bin Laden hiking in the woods near Springerville.
"She said she knew it was him because when she yelled, ‘Hey, Osama,' he turned," Thebado recalled.
We also get a lot of "tips" from people who are pushing a favorite cause, want to promote a business venture, or just have outsized egos and want to get their names in the newspaper. And then there are those we get from people who have nothing better to do.
A regular tipster, who recently died, called the Roundup for many years every time he picked up something on his police scanner, which he apparently listened to all day long. One call went something like this:
Man who recently died: Are you listening to your scanner? The Payson Senior Center bus just tipped over at Wal-Mart and there are bodies everywhere.
Us: Oh, my God. We'll get right on it.
We found the Senior Center bus had been involved in a fender-bender. And in fact there were bodies everywhere: the passengers had gotten out to stretch and otherwise pass the time while police talked to the drivers.
Another rich source of bogus tips is that small percentage of the population we will call, for lack of a better term, whackos and wingnuts. We all know somebody with a loose screw, but is it just me or do they seem to be especially prevalent here in the Rim country?
We are blessed, for example, with a local UFO-ologist who alleges he was taken away by aliens. According to Roundup Publisher Richard Haddad, this guy claimed he was actually selected by the aliens as their messiah, for which he would be killed and then resurrected as one of them. He'd come back, subsequently, with an invasion force and land on the lawn of the White House.
Another recent tipster of dubious mental stability reported that Adolf Hitler's second-in-command is alive and living at Powell House.
We do investigate tips that have any chance of being credible. The recent front page stories about the spirits who inhabit Mad Dawg's & Mel's Restaurant originated as a tip from a waiter who had seen and heard some strange things.
Turned out it was absolutely true, and thanks to the tip we were there when the Missouri Ghost Hunters Society flushed them out. Here are some others we checked out and found to be true:
- Jimmy Hoffa's body is buried in a shallow grave in Pioneer Cemetery.
- A group of hooded vigilantes from Pine is planning to pull the plug on the Blue Ridge Reservoir. "If we can't have any of that water, ain't nobody gettin' any," an inside tipster told us.
- The reason that Rim Country Middle School is the only one in the district to earn "high performing" status has been directly linked to the green egg salad served in its cafeteria. A disgruntled RCMS cafeteria worker tipped us off to a secret additive that has a similar effect on brain cells that steroids have on muscles.
- Former mayor Ken Murphy plans to run against Mayor Barbara Brewer from his new home in Colorado. "If Diane Sexton can get away with not being a resident, so can I," Murphy reportedly told our source.