For your consideration - Thom Barker

For your consideration - Thom Barker

My kingdom for a fact-checker

Thom apologizes for perpetuating the myth of Lake Kathlyn being named after Alfred Smithers’ daughter

I got a very nice email from Doug Boersema last week complimenting me on a recent feature I wrote (“An Our Town about our town: Part I: A start and stop beginning,” The Interior News, March 24, 2022).

Unfortunately, he said, in it I perpetuated the myth that Lake Kathlyn was named after one of Alfred Smithers’ daughters. Apparently, Mr. Smithers did not have a daughter named Kathlyn.

I really appreciated that Doug would point out this error in such a nice way as I am used to vitriolic lambasting, even sometimes for simple typographical errors.

I can guarantee that no matter how much someone hates it when they see an error in my newspaper, there is someone who hates it more than they do.

That someone is me.

My mistake in this particular case, was trusting what remains a mainly reliable source of information on Smithers history, the book From Swamp the Village.

I am by no means slagging the author of this book.

As Doug pointed out in his email, once something like this becomes entrenched in lore, it is very difficult to correct.

And no doubt, Lynn Shervill had his own perceived reliable source for that little tidbit of misinformation.

Few people know better than I do how even the most authorative of sources can be wrong. I started in this business as a fact-checker for a publication called Ottawa Magazine.

My job was to go through articles and double-check anything that could possibly be wrong.

As any good fact-checker knows, the most reliable source is a primary source. In this case, it would have been birth records.

But that takes a lot of time. Time I simply do not have.

Unfortunately, these days, even most big city dailies, much less weekly community newspapers in northern B.C., no longer have the luxury of being able to hire fact-checkers.

I am skeptical by nature and I do my very best to verify the veracity of what goes into these pages, but I am afraid sometimes we just have to make a judgement call on the trustworthiness of a source.

When we do mess up, we fix the online version, print a correction, apologize and move on.

That is not to say it doesn’t bother me that there are copies of this article floating around and that someday, someone else may overlook the fact we made a correction and use it as a source to further perpetuate the myth.