Enough with the April Fools’ Day stories

Why newspaper’s April Fools’ Day stories are always a bad idea.

1. They’re intended to deceive. Why would newspapers want to violate its core value of telling the truth? OK, newspapers routinely publish deceptive content — horoscopes and many letters to the editor, for instance — but they’re daily features and most readers know what they’re getting.

2. They have unintended consequences. Readers don’t realize they’re being punk’d, and they respond to the story as if they’re real. As a result, they’re being made to look like fools, and that’s not a good idea. These days, a reader is a terrible thing to waste. Even some media organizations don’t get the joke. Check out the classic newspaper April Fools’ hoaxes at Poynter for examples of unfortunate consequences.

3. The most important reason, though, is that they are so rarely funny or clever. Of the eight stories on Poynter’s list, only two come from American newspapers. There’s a reason for that. There are few George Plimptons on newspaper staffs writing “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch,” which would be an exception to this post if it had been published in a newspaper. Journalists are cynical, dark and X-rated, three traits that don’t translate well to family newspapers. That funny stuff in the bar after work never seems to get past the editor.

Then newspapers get cold feet with what they’ve done and end their stories by telling their readers that what they’ve just read is an April Fools’ Day joke. If you’re going to sin, sin boldly. Maybe you’ll make a future Poynter’s list. Otherwise, order another round for the bar.

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