As illustrated in The Far Side cartoon with two newspaper boxes, one full of papers reading, “The news,” and one empty reading, “Stuff we just made up,” a good story, regardless of the facts, sells papers.
If not, tabloids would go out of business.
To run, or not to run often becomes the question and the answer depends on the audience.
Certainly, The New York Times won’t run a story reported by a gas station attendant about an eagle snatching a chihuahua without more substantiation of the facts like: Could an eagle actually do this? Who were the victims? Who else saw it?
The New York Post, on the other hand, might.
In the case of the Alaskan snatching, I guarantee more than a handful of readers after perusing the story remarked, “Well it finally happened.”
Could there have been more substantiation? Certainly.
But for non-hard-hitting news, some unsubstantiated facts in the name of humor is probably okay. Especially at smaller, local papers.
The only thing to consider is that as journalism becomes more global, local papers have more reach. In 1993, the wire services picked up the Alaskan story and recirculated it. In 2010, people would tweet and e-mail the story in addition to the wires recirculating it and it’d spread even quicker.
So the moral is: when questioning whether to run a piece like the eagle story, think about your audience not always in terms of the local few reading your paper, but the global audience with access to material you run.