Last year, I posted this April Fool's warning:
There is no off season for spoofs. Remember the film team that exposed the low standards of a lot of the 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.
That was from October.
As March 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.
Update: The UK started the day early, and in style. Some top 2010 spoofs, from a friend's list:
*Ferrets to deliver broadband to rural areas, Telegraph
*AA to use rocketman to rescue stranded motorists, Daily Mail
*Google launches translate for animals, Google
Funny to read. Not so funny when they are re-told as real news.
That was last year. Every year brings a new type of spoof, and 2011 is no different. That hot, newsy Twitter feed? Think twice, or three times.
A selective guide to fake Twitter feeds:
BP, Rahm Emanuel, Bronx Zoo cobra, Darth Vader.
Non aviators may be confused by some of the news about the Reagan National traffic controller who has been suspended from his job after no one could reach him as planes were landing at the airport.
Reports of planes "forced to land" or "landing without clearance" point to a control problem, but not a cockpit problem or a passenger safety problem.
The Daily Beast labels the article "scary" and summarizes that pilots were "forced to land their passenger airliners without direction." Similar language appeared in other reports.
Pilots are in charge of a flight, not controllers. A few hundred airports have control towers. Thousands do not. All pilots train constantly on standard approach and landing procedures and do not depend on controllers to conduct safe operations.
Three keys: 1. Shared communication channel. Each airport has a designated radio frequency for all cockpit-to-tower and cockpit-to-cockpit communication. All pilots approaching National or departing National will be communicating on the same frequency. 2. Automated weather and airport condition reports. All pilots know to obtain weather and airport conditions from a separate standard radio broadcast for each airport. It includes wind speed and direction and which runway or runways are being used for landings and departures. 3. Collision-avoidance radar. All airliners have cockpit radar equipment that displays the location of other aircraft and sounds alarms if planes are approaching each other.
In addition, all airports have standard approach and departure lanes in the sky, clearly marked on navigation charts, that pilots know to follow.
Does a pilot need clearance to land safely? No. Controllers do provide essential traffic guidance and are a vital part of a safe transportation system. Flights to and from airports without air-traffic controllers are not, however, out of control.
If you are worried about flying to Reagan National, this might come in handy. Click to read the AOPA refresher guide to landing at non-towered airports.