No kidding here: Given widespread concerns about fake news, this is no time for newsrooms to play with far-fetched fraudulent news just for fun.
By Kathy English for the Toronto Star
Perhaps I am too serious and somber, but I just cannot find the fun and frivolity in journalists playing April Fool’s Day pranks on their readers these days.
I know of at least one April Fool’s Day “joke” column in today’s Star. Having written my own column a couple of days before this annual celebration of pranks and practical jokes, there may well be more high jinks at play for you today that I was unaware of before my deadline. Certainly, there are many journalists at the Star with a better sense of humour than me — and perhaps they are less grim about the grave dangers to our credibility of fooling readers with pretend news for even just one day.
Truth is our currency — the foundation of our credibility. In this time of concern, confusion and complaints about fake news, why would we present false news as real and seek to fool readers into believing something that is untrue is true? Just for laughs?
I know we can all use a good laugh most any day, but with trust in the media at an all time low, and a United States president happy to try to delegitimize journalism, this would seem to be a time to step back from the tradition of media organizations making mischief with made-up stories on April 1 and remember that the Toronto Star is definitely not The Onion, the farcical U.S. newspaper and website.
Have you found the April Fool’s Day column published in today’s Star or are you now outraged about the cruelty of cats? If so, please consider the calendar and don’t call the public editor. And if there is some other playful prank published elsewhere in the Star, I don’t want to hear about that either. Likely, I won’t be amused.
To be fair, the tongue-in-cheek column I was informed about earlier this week is relatively innocuous. I do not have significant concerns about its publication. It is not the news sections and it’s not pretending to be news. I think you will figure out that it is a joke fairly quickly and allow yourself a smile and chuckle.
Inevitably, the fact that it is April Fool’s Day will lead to some confusion for readers in any event. Most years, there is some strange, but true, story published on April 1 that leads to readers questioning whether it was an April Fool’s joke. Indeed, some of the real news from the U.S. these days often does read like a bad joke.
Certainly Star journalists will need to be vigilant today not to report April 1 hoaxes carried out by others as real news. In recent years, many corporations have hoped to make headlines with elaborate April Fool’s Day ruses. Remember, a few years back when Ikea recalled its erroneously issued “left-handed Allen key,” which must be swapped for the correct right-handed version?