Media outlets, for some reason, are expected to be repositories of all knowledge. To some extent, that’s true.
A media outlet knows exactly what happened at the city council meeting last night. It can tell you the records of the local high school football team from the past 10 years (just hold on a sec – they’re around here somewhere). And it really is still following that missing persons case from 1952 and, yes, he’s still missing.
Just don’t expect a media outlet to know the currency exchange rate between the Thai baht and the British pound. If you want that sort of information, call your local public library (you’re welcome). They have the Internet, too.
In the mid-1990s, I was the managing editor of a newspaper in Liberty, Mo., that’s purpose had something to do with information, but nothing to do with Elvis Presley. Nope, not a thing.
Turns out that didn’t matter.
A figure appeared in my door. It was our receptionist. Funny, she usually buzzed me from her desk when she needed me. Not because of any personal hygiene issues on my part, that’s just where her telephone was.
“There’s a lady here,” she said.
By the pensive look on her normally happy face, I knew there was more to it than that.
“And … Well, just come up front, OK?”
I did and found a woman clutching the book “Is Elvis Alive?” tightly to her chest.
“Hello,” I said as pleasantly as possible. “May I help you?”
“Elvis is alive,” she said quietly, like someone else was listening.
She nodded. “The King of Rock and Roll,” she said, and held out the book. “It’s all right here.”
“Well, I don’t know how I can help you with that,” I said. “He’s been dead, or not, for quite some time.”
“Oh, I don’t need your help. I just need to use your telephone.”
She nodded again. “Yes, to call the president. Elvis is alive and the government has to go get him. He might be in trouble.”
There are situations people learn how to deal with by education, watching their parents handle something similar, or catching it on a rerun of “Leave it to Beaver.” However, journalism school doesn’t train anyone how to handle a person standing in their office who wants to call the president about Elvis Presley. Now that I teach journalism, I should offer a course called “The Elvis Predicament.”
“I don’t have the number to the White House,” I said. “But I know someplace that does.”
Forgive me public library. Forgive me public library. Forgive me public library.
“The public library,” I said. “For information, they’ve got it all.”
She nodded again and smiled. “Thank you,” she said, then vanished out the door on, presumably, her way to the library.
I don’t regret my decision of that day, nor do I regret calling the public library this morning to get the exchange rate for the Thai bah. It’s 53.90 Thai bah for every British Pound Sterling. The library was not happy I called.
Jason Offutt’s latest book is “Across a Corn-Swept Land: An Epic Beer Run through the Upper Midwest.”