Last week, I wrote an article for the Union-Tribune about a restaurant in National City that reopened with new owners. It was meant to be an easy story about a place with a Hollywood-linked past that had been beautifully refurbished to reflect its history.
The editors didn’t get the easy story I was assigned. Instead I turned in a piece about how history gets lost sometimes. In this case, the restaurant’s owners had paid homage to a famous chef that was claimed as the original owner/founder in 1941. The real owner/founder was another man, not famous, whose name disappeared — through no real fault of the current owners — from the official history.
A friend asked why the official history mattered. It’s only a restaurant. Why not just let the owners have their illusions about the origins of the place. After all, it didn’t change whether their food was good or their drinks were strong. The place was still beautiful, the people who loved it still loved it. Why write this story?
Good questions. Ones I’m sure the restaurant’s owners want to know the answers to. So why did I do a week’s worth of research, going from the court house to city hall to the library’s history room, to discover who the original owner was? Because I believe the past matters. I believe the truth matters. And if I simply repeated their story, especially once I’d found evidence to the contrary, without really looking into it, I would be guilty of bad journalism.
That’s right, bad journalism. The lazy kind that takes quotes out of context, doesn’t provide background and uses hearsay instead of facts. Sure, it would have been easier. It would have been a pretty story. It even would have made business sense — I would have made more money per hour if I had simply written a less-researched story. But it would have been untrue. And the real story of the restaurant’s original owner and its history was no less fascinating than the one that was wrong.
The thing is, truth matters. Facts matter. Even the little facts, the ones no one will know (or care) if we get wrong. It’s like the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” And once you devil those small details, the large ones are even easier to mistake. And then you end up in the Iraq War.
Think that’s a leap? Stop caring about the small things and see how much easier it becomes, over time, to stop caring about the larger things. Once you start taking the easy path, it gets more difficult to take the harder one. That’s why it mattered to me.