When I saw it on my Facebook feed late Monday afternoon, my heart may have skipped a beat. It was a link to a website touting Freaknic 2010, scheduled for mid-April in Atlanta.
The site was multi-layered, with numerous “fan” pages and links. It promoted specific events in Washington Park, and others “TBA.” It claimed to have more than a thousand “fans.” It also had links to Twitter and Facebook pages, each of which had hundreds of fans / followers.
The sites conspicuously lacked tangible contact info.
It smelled like news to me, especially since the event was scheduled less than eight weeks hence. I showed it to Kevin Rowson, who was trying to conjure up a nightside story. He was immediately intrigued. Rowson and I had both covered Freaknik in the mid-90s. I won’t waste space describing Freaknik; feel free to Google it if you don’t know what it is.
(A word about spelling: In A Man In Full, Tom Wolfe explains that black folks spell it “Freaknic,” while white folks spell it “Freaknik.” I don’t know how the AP Stylebook spells it. But I’ve always spelled it with a K, as has the AJC, while the Freaknic 2010 website spells it with a C.
By the way, A Man in Full may not be Wolfe’s best book, but it’s essential and highly amusing reading for anybody who loves Atlanta, along with “Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn” by former AJC guy Gary Pomerantz, and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell — the book, not the movie. But I digress.)
Rowson plowed through the site, trying to find contact info. I called Reese McCranie, Mayor Kasim Reed’s spokesman. The site was news to him, and to the mayor. I went home, and Rowson ended up producing a different story that night.
Tuesday morning, I found some names on the site and made a couple of contacts. Neither of the contacts had any organizational connection to Freaknic 2010; they’d simply added their names to the site (as Rowson and I had also done, in the hope that some info might trickle our way.)
I called Kwanzaa Hall, the city council member with the most social media savvy. He told me that yes, he’d heard about the site. He said he’d also heard some organizers had contacted City Hall. But the info was just hearsay. Meantime, the city Parks and Recreation department told me that no permits had been issued for an event at Washington Park during the mid-April dates touted by the Freaknic ’10 site.
Photog Richard Crabbe and I went to City Hall, where we ran into McCranie. Turned out the mayor was about to speak to a council committee. McCranie asked me if I wanted to talk to the mayor; eventually, I realized that the mayor wanted to talk about Freaknic ’10 for one reason: To say, essentially, “oh, hell no.”
“You’ve got me responding to Martians,” Reed said before I could ask him a question. He went on to say that no large, unorganized festival would be welcome in Atlanta on such short notice. He was emphatic.
Reed’s “martians” comment also humorously questioned the journalistic substance of this story: You’re doing a story on a web site? Are you getting punk’d?
I had asked myself the question for an entire day. My answer was: If this is a hoax, it’s elaborate. The site had countless pages, custom graphics, and more than a thousand “fans.” The Twitter and Facebook pages also had more than a thousand followers combined.
Further, no hoaxster had contacted me to do the story. I stumbled into it.
It seemed that, given the supposed power of social media, this loosely-organized event could nonetheless become a “viral” event. That gave the story substance. Update: Wednesday, I spoke with the organizer, who says “I think it’s time to bring (Freaknik) back to the city.” He’ll be on WXIA tonight.
Reed and Hall seemed to agree. Neither was willing to dismiss it. Reed felt compelled to denounce it — just in case.
Meantime, mark your calendar for April 16 – 18.