April 1, 2015

Business Insider | BuzzFeed | Digiday

When April Fools’ jokes fall flat, they can really fall flat. Just ask the editors of The Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Virginia. Business Insider writer Peter Jacobs reports that for this year’s April Fools’ issue, the newspaper’s editors decided to run a phony story making light of the case of Martese Johnson, the African-American UVA student who was beaten and bloodied by agents of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control. In a piece titled “ABC agents tackle Native American student outside Bodo’s Bagels,” the paper pretends to report on a similar incident involving a different marginalized population and uses such fake names as “Strong Buffalo,” “Dances with Wolves,” and “Rabbit in the Grass.” After outraged students began complaining, the paper’s Managing Board pulled the piece offline and issued an apology.

Or you could ask the former writers of “Happy Endings,” a situation comedy that ran on ABC from 2011 to 2013. According to BuzzFeed’s Jarett Wieselman, the writers room Twitter account began sending out enigmatic tweets back in February, hinting that the show might be rebooted and brought back on the air. Fans of the show began breathlessly tweeting how excited they were to find out the news that would break on April 1. When the day finally arrived, the writers room account tweeted, “Happy … April Fools Day! Sorry! All for fun.” This led to many angry tweets from angry fans, including “y’all are assholes, you know that right?” “you have officially ruined my day,” and “GO FUCK YOURSELF.”

In fact, Digiday’s Brian Bralker writes, it’s so easy for April Fools’ jokes to fail that most newspapers actually never consider pulling such a stunt: “Hard news outlets by and large tend to shy away from pranks that risk backfiring, alienating their readers or worse.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the University of Virginia student newspaper.

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