Exaggeration

1 September 2019

On 27 August, the local paper published a fairly sensationalist report about a huge fire at Lakeside. It was titled “Grassland completely destroyed by wildfire.” CJ saw it and was quite upset, even when I told him Kim and I had walked across the country park after the supposed fire and seen nothing out of the ordinary.

If there really had been a fire, it was obviously pretty small or Kim and I would have noticed on our last walk. To be honest, I was quite upset myself, but more about the poor quality of the journalism and lack of fact checking than the fire. Commando takes a copy of this paper to work each night to read on his lunch break. Occasionally I look through it and, when I do, I’m appalled to find spelling and grammatical mistakes on almost every page and stories obviously lifted from social media without a hint of investigation by the ‘journalists’ in question. The days of reporters going out to personally research stories seems to have gone the same way as proof reading and spell checking. No wonder there is so much fake news theses days.

Commando wanted to go to a sports shop in Eastleigh to check out some running sunglasses today. Rather than park at the Swan Centre, we decided to park at Lakeside and walk to the town centre. The plan was, in part, to see if we could find where the fire had been. We parked up on Doncaster Drove, the road that runs right through the park from Wide Lane to the ford on Stoneham Lane and set off along the grassy trail that more or less follows Wide Lane.

The Lakeside Country Park is made up of three, fairly evenly sized sections. The lakes I love to walk around are nearest to Stoneham Lane. The middle section is rough grassland and trees, part of which is a nature reserve and part is used for grazing animals. The section nearest Wide Lane is also grassland and trees, surrounding a large bowl like arena and some allotments. We were walking across the latter, which seemed to be the most likely place to find the burned area. It was also the only part Kim and I hadn’t crossed on our last walk.

Lakeside Country Park

We passed the arena and were surprised to see cars parked there. Usually it’s used by people having picnics or playing games. Perhaps there was an event going on we didn’t know about? There were no signs of any fire, no burnt vegetation smells. We got all the way to the gate where Kim and I had left the park without seeing anything odd at all apart from the parked cars.

We could have just left the park then and walked to the town centre but we spotted one of the little steam trains, yet more parked cars and some marquees. Commando wanted to see what was going on so we turned left and headed to the other side of the park.

We walked past the field of silky black cows Kim and I had admired, still looking all around for any sign of a fire. All we found were some desiccated ragwort, dried by the sun rather than anything more sinister, and a white butterfly. By now I was beginning to wonder if the fire was nothing but a hoax the Echo reporters had fallen for.

Pretty soon we reached the lakes. A photographer was on his knees at the water’s edge taking photos with a long lens. He was totally engrossed in getting a good shot of something on the lake and completely unaware of a swan silently creeping up behind him. I’d have liked to stay and see what happened next but Commando wanted to keep walking.

When we climbed the steps to the little railway station we finally found out why there were so many cars parked on the fields. Lakeside Country Park were holding a Family Fun Weekend, with train rides, magic shows, stories and all sorts of other things to keep children and adults amused. One of the little steam trains arrived at the station just as we got there. Families were sitting at picnic benches waiting for their turn to go on the train. I think Commando would have quite liked a go himself. If there hadn’t been quite so many people waiting, we might have had a ride.

We walked through the streets of Eastleigh to the sports shop still none the wiser about the location of the fire, or if there had even really been one. If there had, we both agreed it must have been pretty small and insignificant, certainly not the massive blaze the newspaper had implied.

Commando didn’t get his sunglasses in the end because he couldn’t find any he really liked. By the time we got back to Lakeside we’d completely forgotten about the fire. This time we walked straight across the trail beside Wide Lane. Near the allotments we finally stumbled upon what we’d been looking for earlier. A very small patch of grass, about the size of a tennis court was burnt. One tree, right in the middle looked as if it might have been killed. The chances are the fire was caused by sun reflecting on broken glass or a discarded cigarette. It was sad, but nothing like the disaster CJ had envisioned when he read the paper. In a few weeks it’ll be impossible to see there ever was a fire.

The moral of this tale is to never believe the things you read in the newspaper, or on social media for that matter. The modern world is a mass of disinformation, scare mongering, sensationalist journalism and downright lies. If you want to know something for certain, it’s probably best to go and see for yourself.

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8 thoughts on “Exaggeration”

  1. Given that Tom Orde is a ‘trainee reporter’ his training is clearly not off to a good start. Best thing to do is make sure he gets a copy of your blog Marie. If it doesn’t improve his training it just might wise him, and his bosses, up a little and you’ll be doing them a favour. Until he can report accurately he’s not worth the paper he’s printed on. (pardon the pun!)

    1. I can hardly bear to read the Echo these days. The poor proof reading alone makes me cringe. I come from a marketing background and would have had a serious telling off if I turned in shoddy work. Journalists today have far more tools to hand than I did but seem to be very slapdash.

    2. I doubt it’ll make a lot of difference. The survival of local papers these days is down to clicks per page, and not the quality of what’s there. It’s not the poor sod of a reporter who’s to blame. It’s the editorial “board” and the owners.

      1. You’re probably right. The quality is poor because the reporters are probably not given the tools to do their job. If it’s like most places I’ve worked in recent years, staff are expected to produce the very maximum in the minimum of time. Proof reading and fact checking are things of the past. If only they realised they’d get more clucks and buyers if the quality was better.

  2. I do agree about journalists not checking their facts, and almost certainly ‘lifting’ their information from other sources. Recently, just around the corner from where I live, a young man sadly took his own life by walking in front of a train. When it was reported by local papers, they used an old photo of a level crossing which is about 600 metres further down the line. A small mistake, but certainly caused by laziness on the part of the journalist, and probably upsetting or confusing for his family.and friends.

    1. Years ago I worked with an ex journalist. She went all over the place investigating stories and taking notes in shorthand. Those days are gone, sadly. It seems being able to spell isn’t even a requirement for our local paper.

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