No medium is better at generating urban legends than ‘roadside radio’, the fast-travelling gossip and anecdotes of street traders, taxi drivers and passengers, golf course caddies, friends or staff of politicians and policemen, land brokers and patrons in bars and cafés. While most titbits might turn out to be fake news, rumours can point us to real trends and changes if examined with a trained eye. Does the recent disappearance of several girls point to an underground human trafficking network? Have people begun abusing a new type of homebrew? Has a well-known businessman suddenly stopped spending money, or a top policeman begun socialising with the criminal elite? Roadside radio will tell you about all these developments, but journalists should ask themselves why people believe it. What does it say about the times we live in or our country?
As always, the first step is to confirm the validity of the rumour. Check with sources in the know. Then, get as much official data as you can, like checking in with the local police station for reports about missing girls, or with doctors about cases of alcohol abuse. Ask employees how the businessman’s enterprise is doing and get financial analysts to talk about market trends. Once a rumour has some substance, you can start planning your much larger exposé.