8 classic newspaper April Fools’ hoaxes

The Great Wall of China hoax of 1899 was so excellent that it engendered a separate hoax: Some have claimed since that it helped kick off the Boxer Rebellion. Even better, the hoax was perpetrated in June, well after everyone had let their guard down. Well, even when everyone knows it’s April Fools’ Day, sometimes reporters still get burned.

In honor of The New York Times’ decision to lower the number of stories available to non-subscribers to eight per year* here are eight exemplary instances of reader-vexation.

(* Note: This is false.)

8. Econoland: In 2009, the Economist announced an economics-themed amusement park, complete with a “Dow Jones Roller Coaster.”

7. The edible newspaper: London’s Metro put together a photo gallery of people munching on the free daily. The finished pages, it wrote in 2011, “are even given a light vanilla scent.”

6. Belgium dissolves. In 1992, the Times of London reported that the north of Belgium was negotiating to join Holland, while the Walloon regions would become France’s hat. It was all hilarious until this nearly happened.

5. Columnist causes fishermen to panic. Monofilament, reported the Erie Times-News’ Dave Heberle in 1978, had been banned for potentially causing cancer in brook trout. A local shop sold out of the line, and Heberle was fired.

4. The Guardian becomes a Twitter-only publication. Most of its fellow publications, the paper noted in 2009, “now offer Twitter feeds of major breaking news headlines, while the Daily Mail recently pioneered an iPhone application providing users with a one-click facility for reporting suspicious behaviour by migrants or gays.”

3. The Old Lyme Gazette’s various hoaxes. Over the years, the weekly has announced it was being purchased by Charles Kuralt (who promised to double staff by cutting the reporters in half), and later that it was being purchased by the Soviet news agency TASS.

2. Ferrets lay cable for Virgin Media. “Our decision to use them is due to their strong nesting instinct, their long, lean build and inquisitive nature, and for their ability to get down holes,” project manager Jon James told The Telegraph in 2010.

1. San Seriffe. In 1977 the Guardian based an entire travel section on a semi-colon-shaped island in the Indian Ocean whose capital was Bodoni; popular beach towns were named Garamondo and Villa Pica. This remains the standard by which other newspaper hoaxes must be judged. The Guardian even got advertisers to create special San Seriffe-themed ads. You can read scans of the whole section here.

Related: Colleges publish April Fools’ editions on March 30 (JimRomenesko.com) | Italian Twitter hoaxer said he wanted to reveal weakness of the media (Guardian)

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • http://keithsww.blogspot.com/ keith s

    I only recently found out that a story I heard about 15 years ago was an April fool’s hoax by the Independent. It claimed that there had been a discovery in a pub in south London of a painting by Vincent van Gogh of the English cricketer W G Grace. Van Gogh did live very near.

  • http://rtberner.blogspot.com/ R Thomas Berner

    Actually, the Chinese did start tearing down he wall or at least letting it deteriorate. Mao never cared for cultural icons. People who lived near the wall harvested the stones to build their houses. 

  • Anonymous

    When I was with a Delaware newspaper in 1964, the paper ran a front page picture of an Air Force plane crashing into the capital building. Air Force families nearby were not amused.

  • Stephen Doig

    During a period when I was lottery columnist for The Miami Herald, one year my weekly column ran on April 1. All my previous columns had been aabout the realities of the lottery — long odds, purely random, no system will work, etc. But on 4/1 I wrote that I had just discovered in an obscure math journal an article by a Prof. Abe Rilfuel a formula that worked to predict lottery numbers. After the setup, which included lots of synonyms of joke and lie and false and such, I started writing out the “method”. But in the middle of the nonsense second sentence I inserted a block of about two paragraphs from a sports story, then in the middle of the last sentence of the sports copy I ended with something to the effect of “…then you multiply by 472 and there it is — next week’s lottery numbers!”

    So the morning of 4/1 the switchboard was innundated with hundreds of calls from readers who said something was wrong with their paper and they needed the corrected wording of the column. Happily, they took it well when we told them to say the name of the mathematician out loud. Gotcha.

    Steve Doig

  • Thomas D

    Meh. I’m not comfortable with news media spreading untruths, no matter what the backdrop.

    Interesting that these are mostly English papers, and the one American daily that’s cited wound up firing the offender.

  • Thomas D

    Meh. I’m not comfortable with news media spreading untruths, no matter what the backdrop.

    Interesting that these are mostly English papers, and the one American daily that’s cited wound up firing the offender.