April Fools Day, as told by the regional press

According to Martha Gill, writing in The Guardian, Twitter has killed April Fools Day. Why? According to Gill, the fact that you see hundreds of brilliant jokes on Twitter, day in, day out, means the idea of a once-a-year occasion to make up funny stories is no longer required.

Bobbins. If anything, social media has made April Fools’ Day all the more important, while ‘the internet’ in general has made it more important for news brands to take on human traits – not least the ability to try and make the audience smile, and laugh with them.

April Fools’ Day is a bond between reader and news provider – the one day of the year the reader will tolerate something completely made up, so long as it’s done for the right reasons. On any other day, that story would be just be made-up fiction, risking the credibility and trust the audience has with that brand.

On April Fools’ Day, however, there’s a licence to be as creative as you want. For regional media, creating an online presence which people want to engage with involves joining in the things the readers are doing online. I think April Fools’ Day will get bigger online for the regional press in the years to come, not least because it removes the dilemma of whether the regional press should indulge in April Fools’ Day at all.

I’ve worked for – and with – editors who insist the regional press shouldn’t indulge in April Fools’ Day. The most common reason I heard for this was that the timing of regional newspapers, with most coming out after noon, meant the April Fool would be lost on readers because of the tradition that April Fool gags only work until lunchtime.

I was also told more than once that it was important not to abuse the close relationship with the reader, who wants news, not made up stuff. Equally, however, I know editors who readily embrace any opportunity to show a lighter side to their brand. Peter Sands makes a compelling case for regional newspapers to be entertaining as well as informative and that the rise of digital has made editors more comfortable in making this happen. I hope so.

So what did April Fools’ Day look like in the regional press?

Perhaps one of the cleverest articles came from the Eastern Daily Press, which reported Ofsted planned to change the inspection categories for schools, insisting on shorter words which would work better on Twitter.

From the start of April 2015, the 11-character top grade “outstanding” will be re-named “fab!”, and the 20-character grade “requires improvement” will become “iffy”. The “good” judgement is unaffected.

However, concerns have focused on the most sensitive bottom grade, which can have a serious impact on a school’s reputation.

It is understood chief inspector Sir Mike Wilshaw favours the popular internet acronym “lol”, which stands for “laugh out loud”, as the organisation attempts to implement a trendy, child-centred grading policy.

At the Birmingham Mail, this video, allegedly of a shark swimming up a canal in the city centre was fun to watch:

The article carried comments from eyewitness ‘Steve Harks.’

The name was the giveaway in this WalesOnline article claiming an underwater pub was being planned by Welsh brewery Brains. Captain Burt Sye anyone? 

The Torquay Herald Express also turned to video for its spoof, claiming a satellite was falling from space on to the beach:

The satellite was called ‘La Fir Polo’ and the article claims the incident is being investigated by the Royal Society for the Unravelling of Anagrams.

The Herald Express also reported on an April Fools from a local zoo, where penguins were ‘pictured’ laying golden eggs. 

Animal April Fools weren’t in short supply. At Dudley Zoo, a panda had moved in. Love the picture with this one.

In North Wales, a photographer mocked up images of six-legged lambs for an April Fools prank, told very well here by the North Wales Daily Post.

The photographer in question, Ioan Said, said: “I’m passionate about organic food and, thinking about that, the recent floods and rising cost of food, came up with this strange but plausible idea.”

And I guess that’s the point of April Fool’s gags. They need to be just plausible enough, and UKIP would argue the Cornish Guardian announcement that the EU was insisting Cornish be the first language of Cornwall would tick that box as well:

It means that, from next week, the Cornish Guardian will be renamed the Kernow Gwithya.

Stories will be printed in Cornish, although a short English translation will be printed alongside for the first three months to help locals learn the language as quickly as possible.

Plausible is certainly the key, as the Bristol Post found out in 2005 when it said the fire service had ordered half-sized fire engines to ensure they could get through the city’s narrow streets. When the Liverpool ECHO said the Liver Birds were being sold to America in 2010, an Echo member of staff was stopped in a department store to ask what the ECHO was going to do about it.  A year later, it fielded calls after writing about a Nessie-like monster lurking in Merseyside’s sewers called Messie.

Back to 2014, and the Scottish independence vote attracted a lot of April Fool’s in the nationals, but I liked the Daily Record’s more down-to-earth attempt, claiming drones would be used to deliver cakes from a local bakery, while new website Scotland Now claimed Alex Salmond was planning to build a new wall to keep out the English.  Tapping into big issues is a good way to go, as the Kent Messenger did with its story of plans to launch fracking on some treasured public spaces.

I liked the way the Plymouth Herald handled  the Plymouth Argyle claim they planned to paint their pitch orange, putting it under the headline: “Home Park pitch to go orange – and other April 1 news.”

But perhaps the key is to always make sure that once noon has past, you ensure people know it is a gag. Once online, these stories will turn up time and again in search … with little attention paid to the date. To that end, The Journal in Newcastle did that wonderfully with their tale of 3D printers being used to create new sandwiches.

Sometimes, however, fact can be so much stranger than fiction. Today, the Manchester Evening News reported on a teenager reprimanded for slapping a shop worker with a fish in Accrington, while in Warwickshire they’ve launched a new Grand National … for sheep.  

Long live real life.


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