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News: The weirder, the better

by Richard Hall Modified: April 18, 2013 at 1:35 pm •  Published: March 21, 2013

Journalism, in a nutshell, is storytelling, and we use facts and sources to help tell those stories. Lucky for us (and you), not every story is about politics, hard crime or sports — sometimes it’s just about weird stuff.

We live in what I like to call the Golden Age of Weird. Thanks to the Internet, we’re but a couple clicks away from truly engaging and thought-provoking stories.

Just last month, Oklahoma saw something truly weird: A man might have spontaneously combusted in Sequoyah County. Let me rephrase that: An Oklahoma man might have just all of a sudden burst into flames — from the inside.

Where are you when we need you?!
Where are you when we need you?!

And now, some paranormal investigators are studying the case.

Why? Because it’s weird.

Sometimes the story isn’t so much about the “what” as it is about the “how.” That’s what makes the aforementioned story worth telling, and why people clicked on it like crazy when they saw the headline on NewsOK.

It’s not that Oklahomans have a sweet tooth for all things oddball, like we’re some oddballs ourselves for reading, sharing and talking about such things. We’re just humans, and that’s weird enough.

It’s in our nature to seek out what we don’t fully understand. It’s why people hunt ghosts, or Bigfoot.

Suuuuuuure.
Suuuuuuure.

It’s why people would rather click on a headline that reads “Oklahoma man dies from apparent spontaneous human combustion” than one that reads “Man’s death investigated in Sequoyah County.”

But once a reader gets past a headline, they expect some good reading. Our readers expected it and NewsOK reporter Robert Medley stepped up to the plate, catching a fascinating quote that helped build the intrigue while simultaneously giving readers necessary information:

I’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve got a body with the torso incinerated.
— Sequoyah County Sheriff Ron Lockhart

Pretty much.

That small quote does so much for the story, which serves the reader: We get first-hand account of what police found, how they found it, and what they thought about it. It’s not every day readers get a story where a county sheriff says “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The great thing about weird is it doesn’t need to be anything paranormal at all.

Just last week, Oklahoman reporter Andrew Knittle‘s story about Oklahoma Internet celebrity Sweet Brown dropping a lawsuit on some folks (including Apple Inc.) went viral. It’s a weird story because of how it came to be, not necessarily what it’s about.

I mean, seriously, the woman became an Internet hit because she’s quite the character, and she told her story with authenticity and hilarity. And, now, she’s suing because she feels she’s been defrauded after her likeness was used without her permission. That’s weird, in a funny way.

'Nuf said.

Then you have the kind of strange, kind of “whaaaaaaaaaaat?” and kind of interesting stories, like the one about a man named Andrew Wardle who was born without a penis and claims to have had sex with more than 100 women.

That, in and of itself, is weird, but insanely compelling. We see the headline, “No penis? No problem! Man to get one made from his arm,” and wonder: What? How? Why?! And, so, we read, sometimes looking like this:

Stories like Wardle’s are entertaining and educational. (Yes, educational).

Get past the headline and you realize this man has had an interesting struggle his entire life, is inflicted by something that only impacts one in 20 million people, and will now undergo a groundbreaking surgery that will give him his very own penis. And just so you can grasp the odds, check this out:

- Odds of Wardle being selected as a contestant on “The Price is Right”: 1 in 36
- Odds of Wardle winning an Academy Award: 1 in 11,500
- Odds of Wardle getting killed by fireworks: 1 in 616,488
- Odds of Wardle becoming president of the United States: 1 in 10 million (OK, so Wardle isn’t even a natural born citizen, but I’m trying to make a point here!)
Source: Click me!

Thank goodness Googling for weird news is super easy because, when it comes to news, the weirder the better. It lets readers (and journalists) get away, even if just for a minute, from the harsh realities our world serves up. We all need a reprieve, whether it comes in an amusing package or a strange one.

- Richard Hall

by Richard Hall
Newsroom Developer
Richard Hall is an award-winning newsroom developer, editor and blogger for NewsOK. He was born in Austin, Texas, spent his childhood in southern California and has lived in Norman since 1999. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2008.
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