Have you noticed? This week’s issue date is April 1, 2021. Do you know how rare it is for an issue to fall on April Fool’s Day?
I do, because it’s the sort of thing I used to track meticulously, the sort of thing I used to live for. Because I’ve always believed that while a good altweekly newspaper should feel noble, like the public service that it is, sometimes it should also feel like a prank.
My first was my best, because it happened so organically. It was back in 2005 or ’06, at another paper, of which I used to write about 40 percent a week. I was compiling the calendar, and I might have been a little drunk, so I created an event at Center City Park, which was brand new to downtown Greensboro: a free Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, to take place on April 1.
I forgot all about it until we started getting phone calls at the office and frantic emails from people asking if this was true. We even got a drop-by from a guy who told us his mother had planned to fly into town for the concert, and that we should reimburse for the plane tickets.
Before the end of the day, the city had issued a press release and put up a sign informing visitors that there would be no Red Hot Chili Peppers Concert this week.
I’ve had a dozen or so over the years — the one where Allen Joines was going to quit his job as mayor of Winston-Salem and move to Las Vegas, the one where prostitution became legalized in High Point, the one where the sea monster wanted to run for an open at-large seat on Greensboro City Council — but the Chili Peppers gag was by far the best.
The secret: They wanted to believe.
We talked about pulling a prank this year, even spitballed a couple ideas at the editorial meeting. But I know those days are done.
These days, fake news is fake news, no matter the intent. And a news organization must safeguard its integrity above all else. I could never sign off on a fake story, April Fool’s Day or not. Our reputation is too important.
We’ve all seen the dangers of feeding people lies they want to believe, regardless of veracity. And really, there’s nothing funny about that.