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Apr 2 / King Kaufman

Forbes’ April Fools’ faux pas shows why satire is forbidden at B/R

At Bleacher Report we sometimes get pushback from writers about our rule against writing “satire,” which for our purposes is defined as writing things that are not true as if they were true. Sports Pickle and the Onion are two sites that engage in this type of writing.

We’re fans! We just don’t allow that sort of thing at Bleacher Report, and writers sometimes complain about it because that kind of writing can be funny and fun.

Yesterday was April Fools’ Day, and it provided a terrific illustration of why satire is out of bounds, courtesy of Gawker.

“Legitimate News Source Ditches Credibility for April Fool’s Fun,” reads the headline on a brief post about how Forbes’ April Fools story had become the top story on Google News before Forbes yanked the story down. The story, not exactly a shining example of gut-busting cleverness, had Mitt Romney dropping out of the presidential race and endorsing Rick Santorum.

Google News has sort of taken the fun out of the old April Fools’ Day joke story for sites that want to be taken seriously the other 364 days of the year, because it can’t distinguish satire or fake news from the real thing.

Websites and before them newspapers traditionally provided broad clues that April Fools stories were fake, eventually. Each paragraph of the story would be increasingly absurd until you figured out that it had to be phony. Or you’d click “read more” and the joke would be revealed. Or you’d turn the page of the newspaper only to find out that what you’d been reading had been the back page, upside-down. You’d remember the date and you’d say, “They got me!”

But Google News and other search engines provide no such clues. And it’s too bad but true that the way the world works now is that people spread stories on social media having just read the headline. Who knows how many people tweeted and Facebooked and Tumblr’d and whatever else about that Romney story without having clicked through and realized that their legs were being pulled.

It’s the 21st century’s way of making Winston Churchill’s 20th century saw as true as ever: A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

Not much good can come out of this kind of deception. It’s one thing to give people a chuckle with a funny story on a website. It’s another to fool them, through the placing of that story on search engines and social media, which really can’t be stopped, into thinking that the story is true.

At that point, it’s not harmless fun. It’s damaging to the site’s and the author’s credibility, and we’ve talked about this before: Credibility is something you only get one chance to lose.

  • Anonymous

    http://deadspin.com/5898298/

    Deadspin: Fishing Writer Submits April Fools’ Column Without Telling His Editor, Paper Runs It As Fact

  • Anonymous

    Looks like Forbes did it more than once. “Jeremy Lin retires” story too.

    http://www.latinospost.com/articles/335/20120401/jeremy-lin-announces-retirement-injury-forbes-way.htm

  • Chris Mueller

    I agree that “Fake” facts have no place on a site which prides itself on being top notch. Humor is OK, as long as it is not taken too far.

  • Kstott60

    Totally agree. That’s so sophomoric and lame and cuts into one’s credibility.

    Many on Twitter, on the news and radio (Coast To Coast AM did an entire four-hour show Friday night) do “April Fool’s” things like Forbes did and I find it ridiculous.

    Having fun is one thing, but feeling the need to do so on April 1 to get yer ya-yas off is played out and jumped the shark probably in 1942,

    Forbes? Wow. Not who I though they were….

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Justin-David-Tate/1460583265 Justin David Tate

    That’s hilarious, but it’s rather unfortunate that search engines have effectively killed April Fool’s Day.
    I think for April Fool’s Day,
    Google should come up with a separate search engine to distinguish jokes news from real news.
    Google should offer that option and present it to several major websites so they can get in on the joke.
    Who (besides Facebook) would turn down the chance to joke around with Google?

  • Bryan

    Isn’t working for Bleacher Report also a credibility killer? Slideshows on WAGs are promoted heavily, but April Fools’ jokes are not allowed… No one takes anyone from Bleacher Report seriously, and instead of ripping other news entities, shouldn’t Bleacher Report be working on improving its own embarrassing image?

    • Anonymous

      No, working for Bleacher Report is not a credibility killer. Your comment that “No one takes anyone from Bleacher Report seriously” is not a fact, it’s just your way of saying “I don’t take Bleacher Report seriously” and trying to make it sound like more than that.

      Bleacher Report has worked very hard over the last year and a half to improve its image, and that has paid off in not just very healthy traffic and ad revenue, but increasing respect throughout the industry. Your comment about how “Slideshows on WAGs are promoted heavily” reveals that you have missed these developments. Go to Bleacher Report’s front page any old time, and when you see a WAG slideshow being promoted, send me a screenshot.

      • Marko Realmonte

        King, although B/R may not be promoting WAG stories–it does seem obvious that these kinds of stories still make their way onto the site…and are popular. (50 hottest Tomboys in Sports–April 4, 2012–233K reads.)

        They are anything but professional journalism. It most cases they are sexist and degrading. Is there a balance between giving people what they want, and remaining true to some sort of journalistic higher standard?

        The line seems to be drawn before satire, but somewhat after soft-core porn. From a purely business standpoint the line seems to waver depending on viewership.

        I’ve looked around the site, and I’m wondering if I want to be associated with people like Gabe Zaldivar (who ranks 6th in articles read). Being a sportswriter is one thing, writing about the ’50 most spankable booties’ is quite another.

        • Bryan

          Amen, Marko!

        • Anonymous

          Oh OK maybe this is the note Bryan thinks I should have answered. OK, happy to.

          If you don’t want to be associated with Gabe Zaldivar, you’re free to make that choice. I’m not crazy about him myself, but only because he’s a Dodger fan. I have similar issues with my mom and dad, but I won’t bore you with that. Unless … got a minute?

          Perhaps you should try to write for Sports Illustrated instead. I mean, you can’t argue with that august publication’s journalistic credibil — Oh, wait, swimsuit issue. And Jimmy Traina’s Hot Clicks. Maybe CBS. Murrow’s network. Cronkite. “60 Minutes.” Oh, hang on. “Two and a Half Men” is on CBS. No journalistic credibility at all.

          Look, saying B/R has no journalistic credibility because it runs silly slideshows that people like is like saying any newspaper you care to name has no credibility because it runs comics. I mean, “Garfield.” I’m supposed to take that seriously?

          Publications have different sections and departments that appeal to different people, or to the same person at different times. It’s simply a non-sequitur to say, “I’m not going to believe a thing this writer has to say about the NFL draft because elsewhere on the site there’s a video of Kate Upton dancing in a bikini.”

          None of this has anything to do with the concern we have—and really I don’t think this is difficult to understand—that satire stories will be taken seriously by people who see them out of context on search engines, and then those people will feel burned and, quite reasonably, say, “I’m not going to believe anything B/R says.”

          I understand that you apparently see Kate Upton in a bikini and say, “I’m not going to believe anything B/R says.” You have a right to those feelings. Significant numbers of people disagree with you.

          • Anonymous

            Ah yes, SI and the swimsuit issue…their most popular issue all year long, and they publish it….once a year, traditionally when sports is slow. It has to do with frequency, really. (and SI is criticized heavily for this non-sports content)

            You have implied that B/R no longer promotes its WAG articles:

            “Go to Bleacher Report’s front page any old time, and when you see a WAG slideshow being promoted, send me a screenshot.”

            This seems to say, yes we run WAG slideshows because of their tremendous popularity, but we are, in truth, slightly ashamed of them.

            I’ve looked at the all-time top writers for B/R– the list is heavily favoring authors of this type of non-sports, swagger content. It’s all well and good–just own it. Kate Upton gets millions of reads, satire doesn’t. If that were reversed in the public, so would the policy at B/R.

            Based purely on popularity of articles and amount of reads…it might be renamed… Breast Report.

          • Michael

            Exactly! King obviously was too busy being defensive two weeks after the fact to note Bryan isn’t alone in his thoughts. Only one person responding here came off badly, and that is the person who compared B/R with SI & 60 Minutes from a credibility standpoint. That was as embarrassing as claiming B/R doesn’t promote WAG slide shows (oh how, oh how do those get so many reads without B/R promotion?).

            Absurd…

          • Anonymous

            “Only one person responding here came off badly, and that is the person who compared B/R with SI & 60 Minutes from a credibility standpoint.”

            Well, that wasn’t me. That rhetorical cheat is just so annoying. It’s the same as this one:

            Person 1: I must be a nice person. I like dogs.
            Person 2: That doesn’t prove anything. Hitler liked dogs too.
            Person 1: So now you’re saying I’m Hitler.

            See my reply to Holden_Caufield above for what I (obviously) meant to say with that comparison.

            “That was as embarrassing as claiming B/R doesn’t promote WAG slide shows (oh how, oh how do those get so many reads without B/R promotion?).”

            Have you heard of the Google?

          • Anonymous

            I forgot to respond to this in Holden’s note:

            “Kate Upton gets millions of reads, satire doesn’t. If that were reversed in the public, so would the policy at B/R.”

            No, the policy wouldn’t be reversed if the traffic were. We wouldn’t run babe slideshows if they didn’t get traffic, but we wouldn’t run satire even if it got monster traffic. (Perhaps we would launch an offshoot site to run satire. I don’t know.)

            The first question is: Will this damage our credibility? Our determination is that the answer to that with satire is yes, and with babe slideshows no. Your mileage may vary, but that’s our policy. You can credit us wit all sorts of venal intentions, but it’s pretty straightforward, as explained in the blog post. When we run satire, it confuses readers. So we don’t.

            The decision on babe slideshows has nothing to do with that decision. There’s no connection between the two at all, except that the two or three commenters here think that we should also ban slideshows.

          • Fred

            Really, “have you heard of the Google?” Really? You can’t honestly think most people looking for WAGs at Bleacher Report do it through Google.

          • Anonymous

            At this point I’m just feeding the trolls, because you are willfully misunderstanding my arguments (I say that because I don’t think you’re stupid), and twisting my words. Don’t try this at home, kids. I’m a professional.

            Note for those following the debate: Holden_Caufield and Marko Realmonte are the same person.

            “It has to do with frequency, really.”

            Oh. That’s funny, you hadn’t mentioned frequency before. I wonder what it will have “to do with” in your next note.

            “(and SI is criticized heavily for this non-sports content)”

            And continues to happily publish it in the face of the relatively few people who criticize it. And continues to enjoy a sterling reputation among the vast majority of readers and within the industry.

            And by saying that, I am not saying that Bleacher Report = Sports Illustrated. Any intelligent person not trying to twist my words would be able to figure that out. I am saying that something we do that you insist destroys credibility, Sports Illustrated does without destroying its credibility, and therefore your point that the thing destroys credibility does not stand up to the evidence.

            “You have implied that B/R no longer promotes its WAG articles … This seems to say, yes we run WAG slideshows because of their tremendous popularity, but we are, in truth, slightly ashamed of them.”

            I did not say that. You said B/R promotes WAG articles heavily. I said they don’t even appear on the cover. That is, we don’t promote them “heavily.” They are niche content that bothers some readers, so we offer them, but keep them separate from the main sports content. That way, if you like them, you can find them (click Swagger on any B/R page), and if you don’t you can avoid them. Everyone’s happy. Well, except you. Your nose is out of joint for some reason.

            “It’s all well and good–just own it.”

            I see you’ve shifted the debate again. It’s all well and good? Your whole argument is that we don’t “own it”? So you’re saying if we had WAG slideshows promoted on the front page you’d be happy? Wait, that’s not what I’m asking. You’re clearly saying that. What I mean to ask is: Did you mean to say that?

            “Based purely on popularity of articles and amount of reads…it might be renamed… Breast Report.”

            I’m going to suggest that at the next all-hands. I don’t think it’s going to go over, though. In the early days of Bleacher Report, hot-babe slideshows accounted for a significant percentage of our traffic. At this point, it’s less than 5 percent.

  • Bryan
  • Robin Fox

    I do not know how a news story can be written in a satirical format.

    • Bryan

      You won’t get a reply here. Aside from one remark full of bluster but no substance (flat-out, it just wasn’t true), the blog writer here elected to ignore replies. Marko had some very good points that went untouched.

      • Anonymous

        Are you talking about me? What did I say that “flat out, it just wasn’t true”?

        What comments are awaiting my reply? Yours? What would you like me to say? You are saying that you don’t like it that B/R bans satire but still has WAG slideshows. Duly noted, but so what? One has nothing to do with the other.

    • Anonymous

      Commenter Bryan seems to think you deserve a reply, so here’s a reply:

      News stories can’t really be written in a satirical format, but satirical news stories are common on the web. See the Onion for many examples.

  • Fred

    Bleacher Report is anything but top notch. Why doesn’t someone ask Mr. Kaufman why it is Bleacher Report can’t get media passes to the majority of the games of the sports teams it “covers.”

    If he says anything but WAG content and the fact that many of B/R armchair “writers” have no credibility, he is again ignoring the real problems instead of looking to fix them.

    I can’t believe the Wall Street Journal wants anything to do with this site. At least that could bring the changes Mr. Kaufman has either elected to ignore or (gulp!) actually believes don’t exist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mr.tapeguy Craig Berlin

    I’m not understanding what B/R determines as satire, other than something that is completely fictional. In that regard, I completely understand a lack of interest in publishing anything that has zero basis in fact.

    However, that is not my impression of what satire is insofar as the only type of satire. I have written satirical pieces that were not fictional but rather a humorous take on the facts. The opinions expressed may not be real ones, i.e. “Lamar Odom ruined my life” but the circumstances behind the commentary, such as his tenure with the Mavericks, would be completely real.

    Wikipedia defines satire as when “shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism….”

    Clearly much satire these days is about amusement and little else and if you’re talking about SPORTS satire, I don’t know how much constructive criticism would be involved. And of course, “ridicule” is a very strong word. When I’ve written satire I clearly want to poke fun at people but ridicule would never be my intent…well, with Lamar, maybe a little.

    My point is that B/R seems to have a problem with this form of satire, unless there is another word for it I’m missing. You DO have a category for humor but it seems that every time I employ it there is a problem and yet there has never been a problem with anything else I’ve written, save for one article that was too short.

    So, I am wondering how to be humorous and factual and not have it be problematic or if perhaps it would be a better alternative to simply not have the humor category available.

  • Richard Pizzo

    Nice job, Mr. Kaufman. To me, your point is clear, concise and not at all misleading—despite what some other comments here may lead you to believe.

    • King_Kaufman

      Thank you. I have never had any doubt that my point was clear and not misleading.