What’s the best newsroom prank you’ve ever pulled?

It might be hard to top last Friday’s mariachi-band-following-an-editor prank from The Dallas Morning News, at least in volume and spirit. Here’s an Instagram video of the fun from reporter Eva-Marie Ayala.

Even if it doesn’t include instruments, what’s the best prank you’ve pulled, or witnessed, as a journalist? Email me at @khare@poynter.org, or tweet your pranks to @kristenhare and I’ll gather them into a master prank post.

In 2011, Poynter’s Jill Geisler wrote “Tales of a serial prankster: How bringing 46 live frogs into the newsroom fosters a philosophy of fun,” about the late Jim Naughton, a past president of Poynter, and his memoir. In it, Naughton tells the story of Philadelphia Inquirer editor Gene Roberts and a prank still talked about today.

… When I returned to the newsroom, the frog caper was long over. The farmer delivered his frogs to the newsroom. The staff put them in the executive editor’s bathroom, all 46 of them. When Roberts arrived at the office, fashionably late because as usual he had stayed the previous night until well after midnight, he went habitually to hang his suit coat on a hook in the bathroom.
He did not scream. He did not quaver. (There were reports, never substantiated, that he did at one point declaim, ‘Where’s Naughton?’ but I was safely across town.) He did what would prove to be not only a hallmark of his administration of the news staff but the smartest thing a boss in any company can do. He laughed.

Naughton’s own pranks are legendary at Poynter. In the Naughton Pavilion, there’s a corner with tributes to him featuring the giant chicken head Naughton wore when vying for the attention of President Ford while part of the White House press corps.

President Gerald Ford meets Jim Naughton, then a reporter, in 1976.

President Gerald Ford meets Jim Naughton in 1976.

Bill Mitchell wrote about that for Poynter. Here’s another excerpt from Naughton’s memoir.

I never meant to become an infamous chicken, certainly not in public. The thing about campaign pranks is that they are inside jokes, private relief from the mid-zapping routine of political journalism. You go whipping across time zones in 20-hour days, listening to a candidate endlessly shout things like ‘Give me your mandate!’ and it induces a kind of mass hysteria among those who are paid, handsomely, thank God, to listen and watch without surcease. Especially for those at major news outlets like the broadcast networks and the Washington Post and New York Times, there was an expectation we would come up with something new every day, even if Jerry Ford was doing the same thing every day. Some reporters could manage this debilitating duty; others turned to booze, some to sex, some to gourmandizing, some to late-night poker games. Some of us turned to pranks…

And on April 1 of this year, I kept a wary eye on April Fool’s jokes happening around the country. My favorites were pranks pulled by journalists on journalists involving green screens.

WDRB 41 Louisville News

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  • billmarvel

    Decades ago, Rocky Mountain News, photographer (maybe Bob Talkin but memory eludes) was showing off his new zoom lens, the first any of us had ever seen. The lens passed from hand to hand, to admiring ahs. Waiting until Talkin’s attention was momentarily diverted, Dick Davis nudged a Coke bottle off the window sill. It shattered on the concrete floor. “Oh God, Bob!” he exclaimed.”I’m sooo sorry!!”

  • Mike Drago

    When I was city editor at The Morning News, a small band of reporters (led, it turned out, by the talented senior reporter Scott Farwell) snuck in late at night and removed the door from my office. They hid it in the building and taunted me for a week or more. I admit, I was pissed at first, but it ended up being a great source of newsroom fun — just the kind we needed. Despite the difficult and uncertain times (now nearly 15 years of hard times), newsrooms on their good days remain a lot of fun. Newsies are hardy tribe that they still find the energy to laugh.