Martians

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.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

4 thoughts on “Martians

  1. dekalbofficers

    Seems DeKalb is taking it serious, even though whoever sent out the email can’t spell. But here is an excerpt from the email.

    “8. MONTH OF APRIL- Due to Yerkees, Freeknick, etc. All departmental TRT officers must be rescheduled to be working (Regular Duty Assignment)
    Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays…off days to be adjusted…..Jagoe would like their work shift to be Thur thru Sun, But they MUST be working Fri Sat Sun—during the month of April. This is due to the increased events in April.(Yerkees, Freeknick).
    These events will be the responsibility of ICP teams & TRT will be on stand-by only”

    Reply
  2. Don B Johnson

    Gee, no overtime for me that weekend. I’ll be out of town. I remember how much fun the last one was……Much like having the flu.

    Reply
  3. Jim

    “Turned out the mayor was about to speak to a council committee. McCranie asked me if I wanted to talk to the mayor;”

    Which leaves us with two burning questions:

    Did McCranie stick his face in the lens?
    Did you have to block a door shut with your foot to talk to Reed?

    Back to the topic at hand, note to self: plan on being somewhere else that weekend.

    Reply
  4. Steve Barton

    Tom Wolfe’s A Man In Full is a very good book. If not Wolfe’s best, it is better and more real than most others. One day I’ll start Where P’tree Meets Sweet Auburn for the 4th time, and hopefully get p the head of steam to make it through. I trust your recommendation. Ditto GWTW.

    Freaknik! (ooh, that k gives me away)

    Reply

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