A chief reporter has warned of a “surge” in conspiracy theories about genuine news stories after being accused of making up an exclusive about a new cemetery on his patch.
Conor Gogarty, of the Bristol Post, has hit back after receiving online abuse over a story about South Gloucestershire Council building a new 3,000-grave cemetery in case extra burial capacity is needed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Conor subsequently received comments including “media leading the hysteria using misinformation” and “no wonder why people believe in conspiracy theory”, with one reader suggesting the Post’s newsgathering consists of taking a picture and “making up a story”.
He wrote: “This was all despite the story containing direct quotes from the council explaining it was making a cemetery and the reasons it was doing so.
“It’s not the first time recently I’ve been left a bit dumbstruck by some people’s immediate instinct to shout a story down, often clearly without having read it.
“Social media has always been a bit of a breeding ground for conspiracy theories about genuine news stories, but I’ve noticed a definite surge since coronavirus.
“Maybe it’s because coronavirus is such an invisible but terrifying enemy. People are confused and upset, without a target to vent at, other than the journalists telling them the bad news.”
He went on: “We wouldn’t make up quotes from a local authority and I don’t know of a single newspaper that would. It’s bog standard stuff, but it’s what separates established media from a baseless Twitter rumour.
“Actual misinformation is a growing threat to society. We’re in a time when the government has literally had to tell people not to hold their breath because no, it doesn’t show you whether you’ve got coronavirus. Reliable media is more important than ever.
“Certain newspapers might not always give the press the best name, but that doesn’t mean you have to adopt a blanket loathing of all media.
“It’s a tough time for all local papers at the moment, and the instinct to scream ‘fake news’ at us is worrying and sad to see.”
Several regional editors including John Wilson, of the Hereford Times, Laura Collins, of the Yorkshire Evening Post, and Plymouth Live’s Edd Moore have recently hit back at reader criticism of their titles’ coverage of COVID-19.