april foolishness

In the spirit of Rachel’s recent post on reasons not to have a myspace page, I present reason #412 for not watching television news.

Besides the fact that knowing the next day’s weather or local sports scores are not important to me, there is the fact that many of the reporters (and apparently the editors too), are gleaming towers of idiocy.

Blogger takes a page from the Onion; TV Station bites
by Annysa Johnson

A local TV news station was punked Tuesday when it reported as fact an Onion-esque story by a blogger prone to satire suggesting that Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa planned to use face recognition technology to scan for known criminals.

WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) ran a brief item on its 4 p.m. news show – apparently without verifying it with the mall – not realizing that the story originated as an April Fools’ Day spoof by blogger Peter Hart on the Community Newspapers Inc. Web site http://www.WauwatosaNOW.com. The Web site is operated jointly by Community Newspapers and the Journal Sentinel.

WTMJ-TV Vice President and General Manager Mark Strachota declined to comment Tuesday night. He referred questions to the station’s corporate communications officer, Jim Thomas, who was out of town and did not return telephone messages to his cell phone. However, Mayfair spokeswoman Nancy Conley said station Managing Editor Jim Cullen appeared chagrined that his reporter hadn’t checked the facts.

“There’s no way we’re doing that at the mall,” said Conley, who called Cullen to make sure the story was not repeated in later newscasts.

Hart’s online report reads like a news story, naming a software manufacturer and claiming the technology was in place in 70% of the casinos in Las Vegas. It goes on to say that Mayfair would begin testing the software next weekend, and that the faces of shoppers would be compared with a database of criminals. It does not say what Mayfair planned to do with the “known criminals.”

“Well, it did run on April Fools’ Day,” said Hart, an accountant whose previous “news” stories have claimed that a Wauwatosa street hit by a string of robberies would become a “cash-free zone,” and that cash-strapped Milwaukee County would begin charging golfers by the cuss word as a way of raising revenue.

Hart said he was inspired to write the piece after reading that a serial shoplifter would be banned from Mayfair. “I thought, ‘How do you ban someone from the mall?’ And then it hit me.”

Everyone who has ever worked in journalism should know about April Fools’ spoof stories. At Madison’s two student newspapers, they were a much-anticipated tradition and the advent of the web makes even more fun possible. On Sunday, onmilwaukee.com, an online guide to life and culture in Milwaukee, published two amusing spoofs.

The first explained that AirTran Airlines, rebuffed after several attempts to buy Milwaukee’s hometown airline Midwest Air, had finally given up and decided to purchase the Airport Lounge, a seedy nearby “gentlemen’s club” instead. The second showed a stern-faced local news anchor, who frequently “exposes” restaurant safety and sanitation violations, standing in her own kitchen violating all sorts of restaurant standards. It was great.

My final tribute to April Fools’ was on the homepage for gmail, the best free mail program ever by the way. You can view their joke at this link.

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3 Responses to april foolishness

  1. jack Bruss says:

    Laura, that Gmail joke thing is priceless!

  2. rachel says:

    That is just sad.

  3. laurafern says:

    Yes, very, very sad…

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