In the Loop

In the Loop: April 1, 2008 Archive

Mesabi Daily News: Playing along on April Fools (and is there anything wrong with that?)

Posted at 10:55 AM on April 1, 2008 by Jeff Horwich (4 Comments)

I posted last week about a fake PR campaign from Ely, MN, threatening to move to Canada. It's dated April 1. While it's a clever idea, well executed, I think I ended the post with something like "God help any small-town newsroom that chases this."

(Courtesy of Jennifer Weismann)
An Iron Range paper, the Mesabi Daily News in Virginia, has a substantial write-up (free reg. required) on the story today -- not about the PR campaign, but parroting the April Fools story itself: "Canada eying purchase of Ely, eh?"

The reporter, Angie Riebe, adds her own material to the press release:

Ely Mayor Chuck Novak was stunned by the chamber's incredible announcement. "I'm not really sure whether it's real or not," he said. "I've had several phone calls from a lot of people inquiring about a potential offer to buy the city, but I have no document at City Hall."

Novak said he was awaiting the next delivery of mail to see if anything official had arrived. "Until then, I don't know what to do." He said he would seek the advice of council members and "walk around and ask our citizens" for their input. "We have to figure out what position to take as a City Council," Novak said. "I don't think anyone on the council would entertain the position to sell the city."

(Local businessman Blayne) Hall said his customers have been concerned about the situation. "Everybody's been calling to find out if they need to change their money before coming up and if they need passports."

The online article is followed by some reader comments that suggest they get the joke (and complimenting Riebe on her article).

Here's the good news: The Mesabi News wasn't bamboozled by a PR campaign. The worst-case scenario is that some understaffed newsroom misses the April Fools angle, gets Punk'd themselves and just runs the release. (Anybody seen this happen?)

But this brings up some of the same issues April Fools raises for journalists all over. Once a year, we take the same faith we work to build with our readers/listeners the other 364 days and abuse it, mostly for internal chuckles. (This year NPR's was a story about portable zip codes.)

I'll admit, I've always been a little uncomfortable with it. And I can tell you there are vast differences of opinion within the journalistic world. Then again, does the audience really mind? Are some of us pumping too much importance into our sacred trust?

The Mesabi Daily News example adds an additional wrinkle: What's it say when your April Fool's joke is served up by a PR firm? It says the PR folks have you right where they want you. (I did say it was a clever campaign. They've even got folks like me and the Pioneer Press writing about it as a meta-thing.)

Readers, weigh in.

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