There is no off season for spoofs. Remember the great video interview with Bono? It was really a Bono impersonator. The episode was an echo of a 2009 adventure when a film team exposed the low standards of a lot of reporting about celebrities.
If the stories seemed far-fetched, it was because they were part of a series of fabrications about celebrities — made up and fed to tabloid newspapers by a documentary team that wanted to prove that journalists don’t check facts.
The Not-Bono interview with Jason Matterra was this year.
Spoofs don’t just happen with small newsrooms and celebrities. Last year, the very large Associated Press tripped up and fell for a spoof involving GE and taxes. Spoofs can happen any time, but they usually spike right around now.
As March 2012 draws to a close, it’s worth repeating this warning, a warning I send around the newsroom every year at this time:
The silly season is upon us. Many publications will be running corrections on April 3 for items they fail to see as pranks on April 1. Don’t let that happen to you – or to your readers.
One editor reminded me about a 1998 prank announcement that fooled the FT:
Guinness brewery issued a press release announcing that it had reached an agreement with the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England to be the official beer sponsor of the Observatory’s millennium celebration.
According to this agreement, Greenwich Mean Time would be renamed Guinness Mean Time until the end of 1999. In addition, the famous observatory would refer to seconds as “pint drips.”
The Financial Times, not realizing that the release was a joke, broke the news in an article in which it discussed how some companies were exploiting the millennium excitement in order to promote their own brand names.
There are sure to be more examples this year. Have you seen any? Comment below.
Each year, the UK starts the day early, and in style. Some top 2010 and 2011 spoofs, from a friend’s list:
*Ferrets to deliver broadband to rural areas, Telegraph
*AA to use rocketman to rescue stranded motorists, Daily Mail
Funny to read. Not so funny when they are re-told as real news.
That was two years ago. Every year brings a new type of spoof, and 2012 will be no different. In 2011, it was that hot, newsy Twitter feed. Too good to be true? Think twice, or three times.
A selective guide to fake Twitter feeds:
Journalists sometimes are on the other side of this, playing their own spoofs on the public. Adam Penenberg reminded me that the history of journalistic spoofs extends back at least to Mark Twain’s account of a petrified man in 1862.
Whether a colleague, activist or prankster, someone has a plan to spoof you, and to do it soon. Enjoy a good laugh, but please do your audience a favor. Don’t publish the material as fact. The reputation you protect may be your own.