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 @firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.