There’s no story here

Newsroom employees must be weary when chasing ledes

 

It’s a phrase reporters and editors hear on almost a weekly basis: “there’s no story here”. The words imply that we’re digging where there’s no soil, rooting around for a story that’s simply not a big deal.

It’s much less common when we’re approached by elected officials and served up a juicy story idea on a golden platter: a scandal that’s yet to break, and a scoop that could result in an award-winning story. This is the journalistic equivalent of medium-rare filet mignon cooked to perfection.

Until, that is, you take a close look at the source and the circumstances, and realize that it’s simply a dead piece of meat.

About a week ago, a flurry of provincial press releases heralded a breaking scandal involving a draft auditor general’s report that cited the NDP in a kick-back scheme that funnelled money from constituency offices to the provincial party. It’s money that’s supposed to stay in the riding, where it can be used by the MLA and staff to carry out important business.

But here’s the catch: this info was only found in the draft auditor general’s report, titled Audit of the Legislative Assembly’s Financial Records, which is based largely on submissions made by MLAs in both provincial parties.

The final report is subject to fact-checking, which ruled out any existence of a supposed kick-back scandal. In the story that was being peddled to media, MLA Bill Bennett forgot to mention the fact he was referring to information that’s simply out of date.

The timing is also curious, as media attention over the ethnic outreach scandal — information which is found in the final version of the attorney general’s report — has made the public well aware of documented and proven misuses of government resources.

The bar’s been lowered with this attempt to manipulate local media. Next time the dinner bell rings, we’ll expect an actual meal.