A paranormal investigator who writes a column called Paranormal Corner for NJ.com broke a story this weekend that was both a coup for web hits and an utter disaster for her credibility.
Kelly Roncace received an email with a photo of what the sender said was the Jersey Devil. The JD is one of the most iconic American legends dating back to colonial times. The story in a nutshell is that a woman gave birth to a cursed baby who turned into a monster unlike any biological creature. It supposedly haunts the Pine Barren woodlands of New Jersey to this day. Great myth! For many and various reason, it’s clearly a MYTH and not factual.
Roncace set up the story by relating the legend and noting that many people still claim to see it.
“For more than 200 years, people living in or passing through New Jersey’s Pinelands have reported seeing a strange, winged creature that has come to be known as the Jersey Devil.
There are tons of stories about the monster, and thousands of witnesses who claim they have encountered it.
Late Tuesday night, I received an email from a reader who recently became one of those witnesses.”
What did she do next? She had to verify his sincerity:
Before I could write about his experience and print the photo, I had to be sure he was sincere.
“Yes, I swear it’s not Photoshopped or a staged thing,” Black responded when I asked if he was willing to let me use his name and state that the photo he sent was not manipulated in any way. “People have said it’s fake, but it’s not. I’m honestly just looking for an explanation for what I saw.”
Why not be sure he was not pulling your leg?
Roncace claims she’s a “very skeptical” paranormal investigator who would “need proof” before considering something paranormal. She acted as neither skeptical nor as an investigator in this case. She didn’t investigate anything but simply reprinted an email from someone who basically said “I’m not lying, trust me.” That’s the opposite of skeptical and investigation. It’s clear she knew the story would be fun and interesting for Halloween time. The JD is one of if not my very favorite monster legends. But this photo and claim, which was followed by a just as absurd video, was not worth a news report. It was not worth any attention at all, in my opinion.
Paranormal Corner is a column that promotes activities of a local paranormal group along with films, events, etc. I can’t recall ever seeing any skepticism displayed there. I’m on the record repeatedly saying I don’t mind paranormal investigation as a personal hobby but when you claim that you are actually investigating, being skeptical, and providing conclusions to the public, I will call out BS. Roncace deliberately avoided giving an opinion on this case and asked her readers: “Have you ever seen the Jersey Devil? Do you believe in the legend? What do you think of the photo captured by Black in Galloway Township?”
What else would we think about this photo? It’s laughable. Why aren’t you laughing, Kelly? We could all be laughing together.
I’m unclear as to the point of Paranormal Corner except to promote the paranormal. It’s not journalism and it’s not necessarily opinion. This is in evidence by her reply to a commenter:
First of all, I never said if I believed it or not. Second, Paranormal Corner is a column, so I thought I would share what I received via email with the readers to get their opinions. While your assessment of the ‘creature’ itself is appreciated, there’s no need to name call. It’s simply a column, and I’m simply sharing some information that I received. Relax and have fun. It’s Halloween!! Thanks for reading!
Regardless of the lack of validity to this story, it was picked up by several reputable news outlets. Some treated is as the joke it was and others also treated it as clickbait. Readers will gravitate to such outrageous stories, no matter how stupid. Many can’t resist commenting about how dumb it is, how it’s obviously a hoax, or how they had their own experience.
The site BGR notes:
At any rate, the “Jersey Devil” photo has quickly gone viral on the Internet and is trending at the top of Facebook right now. For humanity’s sake, we hope that people are finding this amusing and aren’t actually believing in the Jersey Devil.
Well, many people really do believe in the JD and also in even more outrageous stuff. The average reader will have enough critical thinking skills to see these monster hoaxes as obvious fakes, however, take it from someone who has seen PLENTY of questionable claims, TOO many people do think there is “something to it”, even that there is monster hiding in the New Jersey woods.
Paranormal State did a serious episode on it. Several monster pseudo-documentaries and websites treat it as a real creature, even if they are unclear just what it is. There are groups of monster hunters who really do attempt to find the thing. While this is a fringe belief, it is a real belief nonetheless. If you want to do this stuff, have fun, but leave it out of the news because it’s not.
I would assume that the purpose of a journalistic outlet would be to at least confirm something before putting it out there as news. Many don’t do that, like in the very similar Lizard Man episode this past summer. Or, in an opinion column, one expects an actual opinion. To leave people hanging or asking for their opinion makes it clear there was no critical thinking or much of an effort here, and it appears instead to be cheap clickbait. That’s rather irresponsible and a hit to a site’s reputation for providing credible information. I guess the outlet can decide if it was worth the extra web traffic.
I understand Roncace’s approach in that perhaps she didn’t want to offend anyone by appearing to be a killjoy and was sharing a fun story. A Halloween monster story is fine, but I would suggest an alternative framing such as the following approach would have ultimately been better and still have achieved the same response:
- State that email submissions from readers are not reliable as news, that this one was not checked for validity, it’s not actual “proof” of anything, and that it is likely a fun prank.
- Avoid clickbaiting by presenting a “you decide” sensational story.
- Be clear that the claim has serious flaws and should not be treated as “news”.
It’s nice to appear open-minded to your readers but you run the risk of looking gullible and foolish. That is what happened here.
Many readers certainly love the myth and lore of monster stories and would gladly read more. Let’s not cheapen it by presenting a baseless, silly claim as potentially real. That’s insulting.
Once again, the pranksters have the ultimate laugh.