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TMCNet:  OPINION: Newspaper no place to joke around even today -- April Fool's Day

[April 01, 2013]

OPINION: Newspaper no place to joke around even today -- April Fool's Day

Apr 01, 2013 (Herald-Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Back in 1877, a year after Alexander Graham Bell received his patent for the telephone, a newspaper was founded in Bloomington and took the name of the new communications' device: The Telephone.

A variety of newspaper mergers and name changes led to The Herald- Telephone, a name that hung on until May 6, 1989. The next day, the first edition of The Herald-Times was published. Though The Herald-Telephone name was unique, it certainly no longer represented new technology.

At the time, a newspaper consultant said the name would not go quietly.

"A lot of people will refer to it by that name for a good number of years,'' said Ron Mulder of Market Opinion Research of Detroit. "Within three years, a majority of the people will no longer use it. But I'd say it will be 10 years before it is extinct." "Because of the distinctive nature of the name, it's going to hang around for quite some time." As it turns out, he undersold the name's staying power by more than two decades. On occasion, mail still comes to the newspaper addressed to some long-gone reporter (some still alive, some not) at The Herald-Telephone. And a few times a year, one of our callers still will refer to us by our pre-1989 name.

So some 24 years later, the name hangs on, not commonly used, but certainly not extinct.

I was all ready to announce that today, April 1, 2013, The Herald-Times was going to once again change its name to reflect changes in technology. I was going to tell you that the new name would be The Cyber-Times.

But my fingers wouldn't type that. The fact is, I hate April Fool's jokes perpetrated by news organizations. Call me a killjoy, but I just don't think bona fide news operations should report untruths to people, even in the guise of good-natured fun.

There are several examples of this happening. Andrew Beaujon, writing for Poynter.com, lists eight media hoaxes launched on April 1 in various years. Here are just three examples, all representing British humor.

In 2009, he writes, the Economist announced plans for an economics-themed amusement park called Econoland, which would combine "the magic of a theme park with the excitement of macroeconomics." Here are some of the rides it would offer, according to the original story that's still available online: "The currency high-roller: Float like a butterfly with the euro and drop like a stone with the pound! "Chamber of horrors: Tremble at the wailing of distressed debt! "Fiscal fantasyland: Watch the economy shrivel before your very eyes as you struggle to stop growth falling!" In 2011, the free daily London Metro unveiled the edible newspaper, showing a photo gallery of people eating newspaper pages that it reported were "even given a light vanilla scent." In 1977, the Guardian based an entire travel section on San Seriffe, a semi-colon-shaped island in the Indian Ocean. Its capital was Bodoni, and it had beach towns called Garamondo and Villa Pica.

(If you don't get it, all the places are rooted in newspaper typeface nomenclature).

I have to admit to getting some belly laughs in the late 1970s from an annual April Fools Day tradition in Bloomington: Publication of parodies of the H-T and the IDS called the Horrible-Terrible and the Indiana Daily Stupid. Many of the upstarts involved with those publications went on to successful media careers.

But those were send-ups of media operations, not jokes produced by a news outlet to dupe the public.

So, I'm saying no to The Cyber-Times.

Instead, we're changing our name back to The Herald-Telephone.

(Just foolin'.) ___ (c)2013 the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.) Visit the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.) at www.heraldtimesonline.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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