The best and worst April fools: Chicago Mayor FOIAs himself, Forbes burns Romney and Google

The problem with April Fools' journalism pranks isn't that they compromise the integrity of a news organization with a once-yearly joke. The real problem, as Alexia Tsotsis points out while talking about April Fools' pranks generally, is that they're not very funny. Tsotsis blames the Internet but also an unwillingness to commit: "Real life pranks have yet to be overkilled, mostly because humans are lazy and too busy to actually put some elbow grease into them."

This year's good (though not necessarily funny pranks) involved enterprise. Outside the realm of journalism, the Butterfinger crop circle was impressive, as was Mitt Romney's staff arranging for him to address an empty room. Inside journalism? Well, there was a sort-of funny press release to Chicago reporters from Rahm Emanuel's office in Playbook Sunday:

The Chicago Mayor's Office sent this release to local reporters this a.m.: "UNDER STRICT EMBARGO UNTIL ANYTIME on APRIL 1, 2012 ... EMANUEL FOIAs SELF: Mayor is 'Very Interested in Learning More': Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced today that he has filed a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to learn more about himself, a topic that he considers to be extremely relevant and interesting to Chicagoans. 'I look forward to receiving a response from the City of Chicago within the five business days prescribed by law,' Emanuel said. 'I have cleared my schedule for next weekend and look forward to doing a deep dive into the documents. I plan to learn everything I can about myself, and I believe I will enjoy this greatly.' Emanuel's administration said this is the first time a Mayor has ever FOIA'd himself, and this is the largest self-FOIA in city history.

Chortle, chortle. But way too often, April Fools' jokes take the form of announcements. Has social media taught us nothing about using the Internet as a megaphone? So, you had NPR's headline about Twitter shrinking tweets by seven characters (meh), Austin Chronicle's story that Texas was going to an at-large system and primaries were to be held yesterday (pretty good), Technically Philly's announcement of a union for Philadelphia tech writers (not bad), and The Next Web's paywall announcement (meh).

Far more interesting are the bad jokes, all of which have to work pretty hard to beat Onward State's announcement that its managing editor had died. Hasn't really been a great 2012 for Onward State.

Some other just-not-funny ones: A story about Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa refusing to leave the White House. A Forbes blog announcement that Romney was dropping out of the presidential race and endorsing Rick Santorum (though unintenionally funny because it made Google News and now seems to have been deleted by Forbes). Criterion announcing it was re-releasing "Kindergarten Cop," which would have been funnier had it chosen "Kindergarten Ninja."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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