Yesterday, the newsroom faced a rather intriguing ethical dilemma.
Twitter rumors started flying around the time of our budget meeting, saying Mad Men actor and MU Alum Jon Hamm was going to be at the MU Student Center at noon. The reasons varied, but mostly we heard he was filming a commercial promoting MU’s recent move to the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
As an avid Mad Men watcher (okay, so I just started the series a week ago), and the designated celebrity chaser of the neighborhoods beat, I got rather excited for a split second before remembering another little incident called “Brad Pitt”* last spring.
*Context time: a frat spread it around last year that almost-alum Brad Pitt was on campus. It was a hoax, but it caused a major stir within the female student body.
Then we started doing some digging. It turned out MU Dance Marathon started the rumor to get people at the Student Center for their promotional flash rave.
Meanwhile, people tweet things like “Skipping class for Jon Hamm!” and the like. Of course, there were also certain posts of “Just sat down with Jon Hamm and had a slice of pizza. Chill dude.” I’ll believe you when you stop using terms like “chill dude” in college.
So what does the Missourian do about this? Do we clear up the rumors but hurt Dance Marathon, a philanthropic program that raises money for sick children? Do we let the rumors go, letting students skip their classes, and save Dance Marathon’s event?
You could say, “just don’t cover it,” but someone had already tweeted via the Missourian that we were “checking on it.” So I guess we had to do a follow up, despite the pleas of the many Dance Marathon steering committee members asking us to hold off so they still had a big crowd.
If it were up to me, I would have dropped it, still “investigated” it during the Dance Marathon rave, and posted afterward, “Jon Hamm just a rumor.” That way, we wouldn’t have neglected our readers, and we wouldn’t have hurt the Dance Marathon effort.
In the end, we just said “We cannot confirm or deny. No sign of Hamm on campus, but we’ll keep our eye out.”
That’s a pretty diplomatic way to do it. Mr. Draper would be pleased.