Newspapers just don't get the fun of April's Fools Day. April Fool's Day jokes by newspapers aren't cute, they are actually harmful and hurtful, not what the day is about.
Here are two pranks that help make my point.
1. Forbes decided to run a fake article "Romney Drops Out of Race, Endorses Santorum." Problem is the article — most likely because of its key words and the authority Forbes carries in search engines — ran to the top of Google news search result pages.
2. The Onward State, the student publication at Penn State — which just doesn't seem like it can get anything right this year — decided to announce that its managing editor had died. The editor, whose death was made up, was the 21-year-old who quit this year because of mis-reporting Joe Paterno's death.
Both aren't funny. Both are amateur.
Newspapers have been doing this stuff for years and some readers have enjoyed it, while others have booed the resources dedicated to fake stories. Often the stories seem to create more harm than good. Spending hours explaining to readers that the stories are fake, that Romney isn't really dropping out or that the former editor isn't really dead, sure seems like a waste of time to me. It also has to hurt credibility.
But the larger issue is that newspapers have trouble understanding that the day is supposed to be fun and that the pranks shouldn't be so serious.
Google gets it. They had a ton of different pranks over the weekend. My two favorites:
1. Google releases 8-bit versions of their mapping tools
2. Google announces Morse code keyboard
Other companies, like Chick-fil-a, got the fun of the day by announcing their new steak sandwich (looks gross, doesn't it).
April Fool's Day online has become a "gothca" event for sure, but a fun "gotcha." Not a, let's kill our former managing editor, event. Or let's create what would be the biggest political story of the year, event.
Newspapers need to treat the day like a fun one, relax a bit and get creative. It's easy to make up stuff around your biggest newsmakers, it takes more creativity to release 8-bit version maps. If newspapers are going to play with the creative online thinkers, they are going to have to do better and have a personality.
David Arkin is Vice President of Content & Audience for GateHouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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