In many work places, people gather around the water cooler to learn what’s “on the grapevine” about things happening in the company. Over the years, the rumors and gossip came in varied flavors.
If it was directed at an individual, it generally was ugly, mean-spirited tripe, although some would try to make it sound less like gossip, as if they were sympathetic to the poor sap whose reputation they were attempting to eviscerate.
Some of us tried to combat the grapevine with reason, because the speculative kinds of rumor-mongering that was going on served only to whip up hysteria. But reason often falls to the wayside in times of fear.
One such occasion came after the then Sun-Times News Group filed for bankruptcy in the spring of 2009. A powerful riptide of a rumor swept us up in its grasp, fed by our individual fears and financial worries, and interrupted the flow of all work in our newsroom for an hour or longer as it rattled our cages.
People heard and reacted without waiting to confirm the veracity of that information. There was assumption that it had to be true – or that a course of action had to be followed immediately, just in case it was true.
The rumor mill: Sometimes you feel you can't afford to ignore, but when you do pay attention, it can be a perilous thing.
Ultimately, it's no more than gossip. And before you act on it, you had better verify, verify, verify.