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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: How misinformation about cicada ice cream evolved

By Melissa Klauda
June 10, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — When I got word that Sparky's was mixing up a new batch of ice cream featuring the seasonal pest cicadas I was ecstatic. I had just finished writing a piece about using cicadas as food, and this seemed like the perfect follow-up story about a local shop finding a use for the insects that have invaded Columbia.

What I did not expect was how popular the ice cream would be. It seemed everywhere I went I heard, "Have you heard about the cicada ice cream?"

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After the initial story about the ice cream, I went back to the store to try some for myself. To my surprise, they had sold out.

Word had spread the previous night, and curious customers came in for an early taste. I had a friendly conversation with the employees there, including the creators of the ice cream, and they told me to come back the following weekend to try some.

The next thing I knew, there was a sign on the door of Sparky's saying there would be no more cicada ice cream. I thought, "Well why not? It was such a hit."

At this point, I felt it was my responsibility to inform our readers that the flavor would not be back and to find out why. I had brought this publicity to the ice cream, and I needed to find answers for the questions surrounding its discontinuation.

I got in touch with Gerry Worley, environmental health manager at the Columbia Health Department. He informed me that Sparky's management had approached the health department on their own and asked about the use of cicadas in their ice cream.

Worley told me the health department did not take regulatory action on the matter but only advised against the use of cicadas in the ice cream because the department did not have information regarding cooking temperatures for cicadas. Sparky's then decided not to make it anymore.

So that was it. Sparky's talked to the health department and made a decision. I shared this information with our readers in another article. I intended to inform readers why the ice cream would not be back.

Then my words were twisted.

We shared the story with The Associated Press, which sent a rewrite of my story out to thousands of other publications. Unfortunately, that rewrite contained a big error: It said the health department told Sparky's to quit making the ice cream, when really, the department just gave advice.

It was never my intention to blame anyone for the discontinuation of the ice cream but to help others understand the decisions that were made. The Associated Press article did not portray the truth in my original story.

With the help of my editors, we contacted The Associated Press and had the story corrected, but it was too late. The story containing the wrong information had already been disseminated among many news sources, and many of those sources would not even see the update.

I spent time on Wednesday going around to the news affiliates that had the story wrong. I informed them that I was the original reporter and provided them with the correct information. I heard back from a few that made corrections.

I want the public to know the truth and to understand how false information can spread so easily. My intention in writing about the cicada ice cream was to spotlight a local business that was trying to have some fun with the abundance of insects.

Although Sparky's will not be making more cicada ice cream, you could always make your own at home. There are plenty of cicadas to go around.

Melissa Klauda majors in photojournalism and international studies at the Missouri School of Journalism.