June 27, 2014

On his last day before retiring in 1989, Detroit Free Press managing editor Neal Shine found his desk on the sidewalk, Poynter Affiliate Faculty Bill Mitchell told me in an email.

“We arranged with Free Press electricians and other tradesmen the day before to come in early to help orchestrate the move, which involved a working telephone on his desk on the sidewalk. Everything worked pretty well until it started raining. But Shine stayed put.”

(Submitted photo)

From left, Bill Mitchell, Brian Flanigan and Peter Gavrilovich watch Neal Shine in his outdoor office. (Submitted photo)

“He later returned to the paper and ended up retiring again later,” Mitchell wrote. “But I had left the Free Press by then and was unavailable for moving duties.”

On Thursday, (after writing about a mariachi prank from The Dallas Morning News) I asked journalists about the pranks they’ve pulled or witnessed, and I heard from people in our comments section, on Twitter and Facebook. You’ll find those below. But if you haven’t managed one yet (like me,) Mashable’s Amanda Wills has written a how-to on pranking your coworkers.

Last summer, Wills wrote “8 Tips for Pranking Your Co-Worker” for Mashable.

Step 5: Create a red herring.

(Video Production Manager) Evan (Engel) and I prank each other a lot. So, he expected to return to something. The real Mark Hamill prank wouldn’t have been believable had it stood alone. He was on high alert. So, we pulled something way more obvious first — we wrapped his desk in aluminum foil and used 500 square feet of plastic wrap on his chair. That cost $20, but it was worth it.


I asked everyone at Poynter about their tricks, and heard a few good ones. When he worked at Spin, my editor, Andrew Beaujon, pranked fellow reporter Andy Gensler with notes about missed calls.

“They were all from a guy named ‘Joe Sacko’ who was getting increasingly irritated that he hadn’t been called back. But I never wrote a number.”

Beaujon said he remembered the notes driving Gensler nuts, but Gensler told me he immediately thought the whole thing sounded “very Beaujon-esque.”

Poynter’s Howard Finberg shared a prank pulled on him when he was the graphics editor at The Chicago Tribune in the 1970s. During that time, staff started the tradition of an annual full-page schedule and roster for the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox.

“Since this was a page that would live for the entire season, we wanted to make sure it was accurate,” Finberg wrote me in an email. “So, there was lots of proof-reading; there was lots of worrying. And I was a bit ‘stressed’ and perhaps a bit scary trying to make sure both pages were perfect.”

One year in the late 70s, he sent the final artwork to engraving.

“The first edition came up and one of the rewrite/reporters on the city desk came over with a copy of the page with a worried looking. He was saying something like ‘I don’t think April has 31 days.’ I literally levitated out of my chair, grabbed his copy of the page, and starting running to the production office to talk about a ‘replate’ of the graphic or maybe we could stop the presses or who knows what. I got halfway to the door and heard the laugher from the city desk. I had been pranked.”

It did teach him not to be so serious, he said, and he stayed friends with the prankster.

Poynter fellow Ben Mullin told me about Ed Fletcher, a reporter at The Sacramento Bee, who is known for pranks he pulls on interns.

“It didn’t start as an intern thing,” Fletcher told me in a phone interview.

Instead, one day, he noticed a reporter getting a lot of calls from readers all confused about the same thing, and so Fletcher joined in.

“I make voices and I do improv comedy, so it’s something I practice a little bit.”

He prank called a few other colleagues pretending to be an angry reader and then tried it out on an intern, “and since then, it’s sort of become an annual thing.”

Fletcher makes the calls from the newsroom, sometimes six or seven desks away from the prankee. And he starts out reasonable, escalating through the call until, usually, the intern catches on. Sometimes they don’t and accept what he’s saying. Then he just hangs up.

The most famous, he said, was to a reporter who wrote about bovine herpes. Fletcher called and pretended to be a horse owner who asked if this reporter please look at this horse? It went on for while, until Fletcher promised to ride his horse to the newsroom.

“The hard part is stopping everyone else from laughing so hard that they figure it out,” Fletcher said. Another hard part is that, when reporters do get angry calls, they usually suspect it was really Fletcher.

Here’s a Storify with more:

Correction: An earlier version of this story wrongly identified the author of “8 Tips for Pranking Your Co-Worker.” It was written by Mashable’s Amanda Wills.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Tags: ,
Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

More News

Back to News


Comments are closed.