They might want to reconsider this tagline.
They might want to reconsider this tagline.

A paranormal investigator who writes a column called Paranormal Corner for 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?”

jD fake

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.

8 thoughts on ““True Jersey” published a stinker of a story on the Jersey Devil

  1. The Jersey Devil is in the Jersey details.

    Supernatural creatures don’t have to flap their wings – that’s what makes them supernatural.

    And anyway, is it less convincing than the every three days fake bigfoot video?

  2. I know that I often get really weird ghost photographs or UFO or alien photographs or video. I simply do not post it on my site, and I hear from others that they have been emailed the same photo and video. It makes the rounds, and they are fishing for someone to pots it. They don’t care if you use their name (if it is their real name). I was very unhappy when I shared an obviously faked photo once on FB, and asked “What method was used for this?” A UK skeptic, of some repute, was thrilled with the photo, no matter how much I insisted “This is faked, really. I just want to reply to his email.” Instead she took up the email chatting with the man, and he had his sucker. (she is also “open minded” about ghosts especially. It gets her on the news a lot more in the UK). I was horrified, and have only asked for help with a photograph is private. Is the point to give these hoaxers the publicity they would like? (you can charge for that photo if it goes big time, and do interviews, and get paid). Basically if you want hits, and to be interviewed and “make a name” then by all means publish every silly photo that comes your way. Be “well it could be true!” Much like the long serious Bigfoot hunter who is supportive of every silly stuffed costume out there… credibility will diminish. But you will make the local news and site hits will go up… but only as long as you keep publishing silly stuff.

    1. Kelly responded that she writes a “features” column. So, I guess she features nonsense. That is not a good excuse for this. But, hey, the media is a parade of paranormal drivel.

  3. I see this differently.

    Obviously faked sightings when reported on with all seriousness like this just serve to reinforce the belief that they’re all faked or misidentifications. And that may just have been the intent of whoever made the decision to publish this. To bring other reports about the supernatural, or aliens, or cryptids down to Earth and poke some fun at them.

    But intended or not isn’t that the result?

  4. Clearly an UNMANIPULATED picture of a goat with a plastic bag tied to its back… however, it is obviously a case of cruelty towards animals and the person who staged it must be legally punished.

  5. Imagine my surprise when I found this piece of …. writing. Hello Sharon. Thanks for writing about my writing. Now let me educate you on just exactly what a ‘Features column’ is. First, what is feature writing? According to Wikipedia, ‘A feature story is not hard news and is distinguished by the quality of the writing. Stories should be memorable for their reporting, crafting, creativity and economy of expression.’ Not hard news. Creativity.
    Ok now on to a column. ‘What differentiates a column from other forms of journalism is that it is a regular feature in a publication – written by the same writer or reporter and usually on the same subject area or theme each time – and that it typically, but not universally, contains the author’s opinion or point of view.’
    So, as you can see, the Jersey Devil story was simply a fun, unique look at information I received from either a prankster or the victim of a prank.
    Is it news? NO. Is it real? NO! I never said it was either. Also, how was I going to ‘prove’ it? Go ask JD himself for an interview? Come on now…
    The problem comes in when uneducated people such as yourself try to analyze a piece of writing without knowing the difference between news and a column.
    And the next time you decide to rip a writer in your cute little blog, why don’t you reach out and get his or her reaction first. Talk about bad journalism. But, as always, Thanks for Reading!

    1. Kelly, THANKS FOR COMMENTING. I appreciate your… feedback.

      Wait, sorry, I won’t do the passive-aggressive stuff because I can’t be that disingenuous.

      It’s all well and good that you do a features column on the paranormal. I don’t read it because I don’t think it’s good or worthwhile. I only came across it because of this JD story in a search result. I take an entirely different approach to paranormal phenomena. I attempt to understand why some people believe it and make it an important aspect in their lives. I also study how it threads through the culture and how media influences belief. Therefore, I didn’t agree with the way you presented this information and I supplied suggestions on how it could have been better. We have enough garbage news floating around that people believe. See – we don’t need any more. We need BETTER presentation.

      I see you justifying your presentation of this story as “fun” but you failed to give it the elements needed for that perspective. Therefore, you DID look foolish. People LAUGHED at this story. Why weren’t you laughing? You should have been. You couldn’t tell you were treating this as fun. Thus, that was a failure on your part. Had that intent come through, I would not have written this piece, there’d have been no need.

      Even though you say it was not news, etc., it BECAME news and I sense you loved that that happened. You noted how you were contacted by some mainstream news outlets. It got the site a ton of hits, for sure. This pattern is typical of sensationalist stories. I’m hardly surprised.

      As a writer, you must be aware that this can happen, and of your responsibility to present good information and what effect that might have on readers. Reaction is obviously not entirely predictable, as in this case. But I would suggest that examining such events afterwards and making sure your are prepared for a possible “blow up” are worthwhile efforts.

      As you incorrectly assume observations with many of your other pieces, I am not uneducated. You can look at my bio to see my experience. I’ve run a media critique site for over 4 years now and have also studied the actions of paranormal investigators. I also write (technical writing) as part of my career. I do not appreciate your condescension and it adds to my impression of your credibility.

      I am not a journalist. I have this “cute little blog” that has been going since, geez, 2006 as well as writing for other publications. I have every right to critique work in the public eye. I often get the excuse that I haven’t contacted the person I am criticizing. It seems like a nifty tactic but it doesn’t wash. It’s implausible. I did, however, talk to you about it via twitter. So, your view was taken into consideration. As for the rest of your comments above, I don’t find much value in them other than as an attempt to defend yourself. But, to respond to your advice to me, perhaps the next time you get a dubious tip, you might contact rational experts on the phenomena in question, such as Benjamin Radford or Brian Regal, to fill out the story. And, the next time you find yourself criticized, why don’t you consider it, then take it or leave it, not continue to dig a hole deeper.

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