Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/5/2018 (544 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
"Their building is on fire and they still don’t think it is news. No wonder they are slowly dying out."
— Comment from a Facebook user on The Brandon Sun website, May 19.
Throughout the mayhem of the fires that ravaged parts of downtown Brandon on May 19, there was an odd little thread running through many of the conversations I had with the public. The same question kept popping up — had The Brandon Sun building also burned?
For the record, reports of our demise were greatly exaggerated. Yet considering the fact that strong winds were pushing the smoke and fiery ash from the Christie’s Office Plus building directly over our building, it wasn’t an unfair question to ask. And as most of the public knows, we came dangerously close to such a reality, with fire destroying the beer vendor just across the street from us.
In the early hours of the fire, I must admit I had my concerns about my office building, because we were right in line with the smoke and debris fallout. As soon as I saw the beer vendor catch fire, I realized that we were about to be evacuated, and I grabbed the rest of my camera gear from my office and dumped it in my car, before checking on the warehouse manager to make sure he was OK, and that there was no one left in the building.
Through conversation with the publisher, reporter Michael Lee and other employees who remained in the area, I knew throughout the afternoon that The Sun had not caught on fire, nor had been damaged in any way.
But that didn’t stop speculation from running ... well ... like wildfire on social media. As the above comment on our Facebook page indicates, rumours were flying that The Brandon Sun building was on fire.
It was a particularly busy day for our staff. Lee had come back into the city after being on assignment near Riding Mountain earlier in the day. He had texted me earlier that he had been tipped off about the fire at Christie’s and asked me to head there. It’s the long weekend, after all, and as the newsroom boss, I’m the guy on call when something explodes.
As anyone who has worked in a daily newsroom understands, it takes a great amount of work to gather information properly from relevant sources, and then write a useful story that still needs editing before being posted online or printed. In a perfect world, we would have instant information, perfect and reliable, every time. But it takes hard work by dedicated individuals to gather information, and then write it in a digestible and accurate manner.
Proven media, such as The Brandon Sun or Winnipeg Free Press, are not in the habit of publishing rumours and gossip. Our adherence to the principles of reliable news reporting is why we remain trustworthy — and we do our best every day to earn that public trust.
So when my cellphone started buzzing every other minute, with questions from concerned friends wondering if we were OK, and whether our building was still standing, I was caught off guard. As far as I knew, my office was fine — just evacuated as a precaution.
But my staff were also getting bombarded by calls and texts. Our court reporter was in Superstore around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and overheard a woman telling two people of the buildings that were on fire, including The Brandon Sun building. At that point, the reporter texted me to ask if it actually was on fire. A short time later she had gone to Sobeys at Shoppers Mall and overheard another group of people talking about the fires and again The Sun was among the buildings that were said to have been burning down.
Word travels fast in this town. And rumours seem to fly faster.
Time and again, my Facebook account pinged with questions from folks who had heard we were burning down. And as many times as I would put it out on social media or tell my friends that The Sun’s building was not burning, I would read or hear someone say otherwise.
At one point in the weekend, the Brandon firefighters and paramedics group published an aerial map of downtown Brandon on its Facebook page with various buildings circled in red. The map included the name of The Brandon Sun as a highlighted landmark point underneath one of the red circles, which prompted even more questions on the page regarding The Sun’s well-being. This was not the fault of the firefighters and paramedics, just an unlucky happenstance.
I highlight this issue because it perfectly illustrates the dangers of listening to hearsay and rumour in our community. Society needs to be able to rely upon seasoned professionals who gather news, be they radio, internet-based, print or television. While I am heartened that so many individuals actually reached out to me and my staff to try to confirm a rumour before spreading it further, it’s so easy to see how such rumours can begin. And in this case, given a different turn of Fortune’s wheel, it might well have been true.
We truly appreciate the support we have received over the last several days. And we hope the public sees fit to continue that support — because clearly there’s still a need for proven media.
» Matt Goerzen