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Investigative journalism lives!

Omaha manhole explosion
Photo: Stephanie Sands

I come late to this story but am delighted to tell it nevertheless. It seems that in some corners of the media world, investigative journalism is still alive and well, and no one could be happier than this old editor who had all but given up on the profession she once loved.

It seems the photo above has been zipping around in cyberspace since January 27, totally unbeknownst to me. But I live in a cave, remember. Most of the virtual world, as well as the real world, flies well beyond my radar. Anyway, this misty photo of unknown origin was thought to be an amazing shot of a fiery underground explosion in Omaha, Neb. The vertical flares in a line down the street were gouts of flame bursting through manholes.

Spectacular! And of course much discussion immediately ensued. Was the photo faked? Was it Photoshopped? Was it real or was it Memorex?

Enter Matthew Hanson, intrepid columnist for The Omaha World-Herald. He, too, was curious about the photo and, having engaged in a conversation about its authenticity and believing he could handle it, set out to discover the truth.

After much opening of doors and asking of questions, he finally tracked down one Stephanie Sands, who told of having taken the photo from her apartment window with her cell phone. The photo, it turned out, was quite real. However, those who had seen it had misinterpreted what they saw. Ms. Sands explained that only the first flare is from the explosion. What appear to be additional flares are only reflections of street lights.

And so I salute Matthew Hansen for his dogged, if not history-making, investigation of and subsequent report on “The great Omaha manhole fireball photo mystery.” Likewise I salute David Carr of The New York Times for bringing this story to a wider audience so that we might all celebrate the revelation that sound investigative journalism still exists, at least in a few far-flung outposts.


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