But sometimes it takes a strong-willed hack to spy out the urban myths from the urban jungle.
One story that has been doing the rounds for many a month, now, but still seems to be losing no momentum in pub gossip, is that of the dwarf-eating hippo. The gist of the story is as follows (as reported in the Pattaya post in Thailand who - to paraphrase - reported this.):
"A hippopotamus has swallowed a dwarf in a circus accident in northern Thailand. "A dwarf, nicknamed Od, died when he bounced sideways from a trampoline and was swallowed by a yawning hippopotamus, which was waiting to appear in the next act," the Pattaya Mail reported. "Vets on the scene said Hilda the Hippo had a gag reflex which automatically caused her to swallow." The vets said it was the first time the hefty vegetarian had ever eaten a circus performer. "Unfortunately, the 1000 plus spectators continued to applaud wildly until common sense dictated there had been a tragic mistake."
By all accounts, a one-in-a-million freak accident. That is until you realise that the story has also muted into pieces that say the dwarf in question was called Franz Dasch and lived in Austria, or was known as Bruno, the Bulgarian Dwarf, or even, happened to 42 of them in Cambodia. There's even a book and a band after the event.
The worry is this. In a digital age, where journalists are increasingly having to beat the 'citizen reporter' to a story, it is very, very easy for us to run with a story that looks on the surface alot more credible than a hippo-eating dwarf, and one that we have heard from a number of 'net sources, but one that turns out to be absolutely rubbish.
All in all - if there is one thing worth learning about urban myths. Is that is teaches us all a lesson on the why-s and where-s of good reporting.