Small Town Journalists Report the News in Person

A white sailboat with its sail down and wrapped around the mast.

Fake news doesn’t just sprout from national politics and pandemics. It happens in a small, lakeside town, too. Here in Port Stanley we have a mystery in the harbour. And you won’t find the truth from the Internet.

More than a week ago now, the pictured sailboat came into our harbour and docked. A big box store rental truck pulled up and some men threw several large bags from the boat into the truck, which drove away. A harbourmaster at the bridge spoke to a couple of men who disembarked and told them he needed their info. Standard stuff for incoming boats. The men said, “oh we’re going to Customs, so it’s cool”.

When no one returned over the next couple of days and the boat didn’t move, police were called. OPP boarded and discovered the cabin was a mess and the key was in the ignition. They ran the serial number and nothing came up. It doesn’t appear that the numbers were altered. A name should have been connected. The last I heard, the municipality and police were trying to decide who was responsible for deaIing with the abandoned vessel.

But the stories online have been hilarious and mainly written by people who haven’t been anywhere near the harbour.

STORY ONE: The boat was involved in a drug bust in London. The London Free Press reported on the abandoned boat on the same page as a story about an unrelated drug bust on Hamilton Road in London. Somebody half-read it and stitched the two stories together.

STORY TWO: Police forgot to get a warrant so no one knows what’s on board. Tell that to the officers who boarded and searched the boat!

And on and on it goes. This is why journalists (and former journalists) keep harping about “checking your sources” before you believe a story. People sure do love to draw attention to themselves, whether or not they have anything valuable to share.

My In-Person Reporter

The Harbourmaster saw me taking the photo of the boat while on a walking tour of Port Stanley with my friend Corinne. He gave us the the whole scoop. We believe him, seeing as he was the person in charge at the bridge when the boat showed up. I suppose you could call it gossip, but when it affects the town, it’s news.

Talking to merchants, I’ve learned about why empty storefronts haven’t reopened. In one case, it took months for the building’s owner to get a delinquent tenant out. When one store started selling a certain special something offered exclusively by another store, the village was abuzz. And when Port Stanley Dental’s post hygienist was stolen, it was a shop keeper who told us.

The sailboat’s fate isn’t top priority right now because of a tragedy in the water. A London man went for a swim off a sailboat and didn’t return. Police from area jurisdictions, the Coast Guard, and other departments have been searching Lake Eire by water and air. Resources are stretched. A family is waiting for answers. The boat will eventually get its day.

We don’t have a daily paper. So, the village merchants and the Harbourmaster are the town’s most reliable journalists. But you’ve got to get offline and go talk to them in order to get the truth.

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