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Yeah, We’re Party Poopers: No April Fool’s Here

Every year, someone makes Michael Hinman jump on his soapbox

You know it’s April 1 when your day is filled with pranks and jokes, you can’t trust the news you read online, and you find yourself reading yet another whining column from me asking my counterparts in the news industry to respect what they do.

I actually woke up Sunday morning thinking that this would be the first time in more than a decade I would not have to write this column. The last couple of years have been great — sure, there were a smattering of jokes here and there, but by and large, many news sites and blogs steered clear of confusing readers with poor attempts at humorous fiction.

But then it happened. Some blog decided to post a story about Joss Whedon and “Lost Girls,” without even bothering (at the very least) to warn readers it was a joke, and sit there and chuckle like a couple of 10-year-olds.

I’m really not a party pooper. In fact, people who get to know me will tell you that I’m a fun guy, and in casual settings, will try to bullshit you just like anyone else. Around a dinner table, making up funny stories that are obviously not true is just fun, and a chance to exercise creativity. And around the dinner table, or at the water cooler are perfect places to do just that.

But putting this garbage in the same spot where you put legitimate news is completely wrong. It’s not just some old journalism tenet I won’t let go of. There’s a reason: Readers go to this site and others because they trust what they read here is true. Sometimes, even the most outlandish story can be picked up as real by very smart people.

Not only are these people probably not laughing when they find out the April Fool’s story is not true, but they may have already shared that news with others, and can’t go back and tell them it’s not true. That means such stories will circulate for weeks, sometimes even months, and will then pop up from time to time in my mailbox (and other news outlets, I’m sure), with some question asking if this story is true.

We are about to enter our 15th year providing science-fiction news to you, and in those 15 years, we’ve never asked you to stop and look at the date on a story before deciding whether you want to trust what it is we’re telling you.

And yes, I believe others who lead us to believe they are news outlets should follow suit.

I have always loved how news evolved into electronic form, allowing people who may not have been publishers in the old ink barrels days to be publishers now. The bad part, however, is many are calling themselves journalists without a single thread of training. Journalism is more than just being able to write — it’s building a level of credibility based on hard research, the ability to corroborate, and to admit when you make a mistake.

I started my career in journalism more than 20 years ago, and the vast majority of those years have been working in newspapers, on the radio, and other places. Many of them have also been done concurrently here, and we have worked hard to uphold a high journalistic standard for you, even if entertainment isn’t necessarily treated the same as a presidential election.

Have fun and do your pranks. I will, too. But if you’re trying to be a serious blogger or even a serious journalist, don’t destroy your work by putting such nonsense in areas your readers are meant to maintain a level of trust. There’s a time and place for jokes, and what are supposed to be your serious news pages is not one of them.

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Could they be a Rut-ro! Shaggy
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