March 30, 2012

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 ( | Italian Twitter hoaxer said he wanted to reveal weakness of the media (Guardian)

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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